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Trump focuses on trade in diplomat pick

By Zhang Yunbi | China Daily | Updated: 2016-12-14 05:10

Nomination of Exxon Mobil chief for State Department heralds more aggressive economic policies

US president-elect Donald Trump has chosen Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be his secretary of state, a move that observers said Trump sees as a way to secure smarter deals in economic diplomacy, particularly in trade agreements.

The choice is a crucial one — Trump has made statements provoking China — as the incoming president clearly intends to steer United States foreign policy in a more conservative direction.

The announcement was made on Tuesday in New York, and follows Trump's statements in recent days on a number of sensitive topics, including the Taiwan question and the South China Sea issue.

In a release from his transition headquarters, Trump hailed Tillerson, 64, as "among the most accomplished business leaders and international deal makers in the world". Trump said Tillerson rose through the ranks "through hard work, dedication and smart deal making", the Associated Press reported.

Tillerson's nomination is subject to approval by the US Senate.

Responding earlier on Tuesday in Beijing to news of Tillerson's likely selection, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said it is hoped that the diplomatic departments of both sides will boost communication, strengthen cooperation and play an important and constructive role for the development of their ties.

Ruan Zongze, vice-president of the China Institute of International Studies, said the selection mirrors "Trump's ambition to make some difference in economic diplomacy" as he tweaks US strategies in bilateral and multilateral trade pact negotiations.

In past years, one of the top items on the China-US economic agenda has been negotiations on the nations' proposed bilateral investment treaty.

Ruan said it is unlikely that the Trump team will continue those talks — pushed by the Obama administration — in the short term, but Trump may later change his mind.

Yuan Zheng, a senior researcher on US foreign policy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that although he is prudently optimistic about overall China-US ties, bilateral trade cooperation may be bumpy.

"There will be tougher bargaining when China and the US work on bilateral trade talks," given Trump's stated inclination toward trade protectionism, he said.

Washington has complained that China still has a long list of activities prohibited to US companies in the Chinese market, Yuan noted. Trump could be expected to try to pare that back, among other moves, in order to fulfill his election pledges on boosting employment and bringing manufacturing businesses back to the US, Yuan said.

Given Tillerson's oil industry background and his experience in dealing with dozens of countries around the globe, Ruan said future US economic diplomacy may be lined up with the US national strategy to boost independence in the energy field. US policies on climate change also may change, Ruan said.

Zhou Shijian, a senior trade expert at Tsinghua University, said Tillerson may help ease strained US ties with Russia through his close personal relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. But containing China can be expected to remain one of Washington's top priorities, Zhou said.

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