Rexit: Global reactions to Trump's sacking of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaking to the media at the US State Department after being fired by President Donald Trump on March 13, 2018.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaking to the media at the US State Department after being fired by President Donald Trump on March 13, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

United States President Donald Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday (March 13), a little over a year after Mr Tillerson took on the job.

Mr Tillerson's dismissal came following disagreements over issues such as the Iran nuclear deal, US-Russian ties and the North Korea nuclear weapons programme.

Mr Trump has named CIA director Mike Pompeo to replace Mr Tillerson as the top US diplomat.

Here is a round-up of reactions to Mr Tillerson's ouster, dubbed Rexit by some media.

SOUTH KOREA

South Korea's Foreign Minister Kang Kyung Wha said Mr Tillerson's departure was "a sudden change" but that it would not affect Seoul's cooperation with Washington on North Korean nuclear issues, Yonhap reported on Wednesday. Ms Kang is set to hold talks with Washington  on Friday to discuss the planned meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Trump that is expected to be held by May. An official had earlier said the talks would not go ahead as planned.

Ms Kang declined to comment specifically on Mr Pompeo's appointment but said she believed the close coordination between Washington and Seoul would continue under his administration.

Meanwhile, South Korean officials who spoke anonymously said that while Mr Pompeo was a hardliner on North Korea, he was a seasoned politician who understood how to compromise. One senior official, citing the upcoming Trump-Kim summit, was quoted as telling Reuters: “We’re aware that Pompeo was one of the strongest voices in the talk of military action and fed Trump related assessments, but things have since changed a lot. So, we will see.”

CHINA

China did not comment on Mr Tillerson's departure but said it hoped the political will for talks between the United States and North Korea would be maintained even with his exit, Reuters reported.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said on Wednesday that China wanted to work with Mr Pompeo to manage differences between the two countries and would continue to cooperate with Washington on hotspot issues.

Commenting on the news, the state-backed Global Times tabloid on Wednesday, said that the "abruptness of the incident came as a surprise". It also noted that Mr Tillerson's exit had been rumoured for some time and that it was the latest in a string of departures of Trump officials.

"This indicates, one can reasonably argue, a lack of willingness or ability on Trump's part to see disagreements resolved. As the tribulations inside the Trump Administration mount, such news foretells of a lack of decision and efficacy in Washington on the global stage," it added.

On Mr Pompeo, the editorial noted that "he is known for his stern views". "However, unlike the more restrained Tillerson, the president's new expert Pompeo is likely to add more foam to the top, leading to uncertainty and a higher risk," it said.

 
 

Meanwhile, Professor Jia Qingguo, an expert on Chinese diplomacy at Peking University in Beijing, said coming from the CIA, Mr Pompeo is more likely to see China as a threat but that his views could soften over time. "Once you are in the secretary of state position, you need to be more pragmatic and take into account the huge stakes involved, so the impact will not be as big as some people expect."

JAPAN

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said he personally regretted the development, adding that while he and Mr Tillerson sometimes had different opinions, they were able to have a frank exchange of views, NHK reported on Wednesday.

Mr Kono had also been scheduled to hold talks with Mr Tillerson on North Korea later this week.

Meanwhile, a source close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the news was a surprise, but one that would not affect US-Japan ties. "Prime Minister Abe and Trump have a close relationship, so it's no problem," the source was quoted saying.

PHILIPPINES

The Philippines thanked Mr Tillerson for working through a challenging period in ties between the two countries, The Philippine Star reported on Wednesday. Relations have been strained since President Rodrigo Duterte declared his country would distance itself from the US and forge new relationships with China and Russia.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said: "We thank Secretary Tillerson for his friendship and the support he has extended to the Philippines and the Filipino people particularly during the period when our relations with the United States were facing challenges. We pray for the best for Secretary Tillerson in all his future endeavours."

"We congratulate Mike Pompeo on his designation as the new Secretary of State. We look forward to working with him and further strengthening the special relationship between the Philippines and the United States."

AUSTRALIA

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull thanked Mr Tillerson for his work as Secretary of State and welcomed Mr Pompeo into the job, calling him a great friend of Australia, The Australian reported.

"I want to thank Rex Tillerson for the great work he's done as Secretary of State. He's been a terrific partner for us. We thank him for that and congratulate him on his great work and we look forward to working with Mike Pompeo. We know him very well. He's a great friend of Australia. The transition will be absolutely seamless," said Mr Turnbull.

BRITAIN

A spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May thanked Mr Tillerson for his cooperation and said Britain was looking forward to working with Mr Pompeo.

“We are grateful for the excellent relationship and cooperation that we have had with Rex Tillerson and look forward to that continuing under the new US Secretary of State,” Reuters quoted the spokesman as saying. 

RUSSIA

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said  it was unlikely ties between Moscow and Washington could get any worse, but that Russia hoped for a constructive and sober approach to relations between the two countries, Reuters reported.

Earlier, Moscow gave a sarcastic response to the news. In a text message to the Agence France-Presse news agency, Foreign Ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova asked: "Have they started blaming Russia yet for the Washington staff changes?"

IRAN

According to the New York Times, Iran‘s official Islamic Republic News Agency’s website posted an unflattering photo of Mr Pompeo in a possible indication of the reception the hawkish Pompeo could receive when he assumes the role.

GERMANY

Germany did not issue an official statement, but its Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Roth tweeted simply: "The dismissal of Rex Tillerson does not help", the New York Times reported.