Secretary of State

Nominee Tillerson to voice concerns about Russia

At his confirmation hearing, Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson took a harsher tone than President-elect Donald Trump saying Russia 'poses a danger' and that China should be denied access to islands it has built in the South China Sea.

WASHINGTON • US President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for Secretary of State, Mr Rex Tillerson, will voice concerns about Russia's actions on the world stage and say China must help pressure North Korea to reform.

The Trump transition team circulated Mr Tillerson's opening statement, to be delivered during his Senate confirmation hearing which was due to begin late yesterday.

Mr Tillerson would explain to some extent why Mr Trump has been in favour of a warmer relationship with Moscow, saying Washington needs an open and frank dialogue with Russia on its ambition in order for the United States to chart its own course.

But his concerns about Russia go beyond Mr Trump's frequent expressions of the need for better ties with Moscow, after what he feels was a bungling of the relationship by outgoing President Barack Obama. "Our Nato allies are right to be alarmed at a resurgent Russia," Mr Tillerson would say. "But it was in the absence of American leadership that this door was left open and unintended signals were sent."

He would cite Mr Obama's failure to act against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons against his own people as a weak signal to Moscow.

"We backtracked on commitments we made to allies. We sent weak or mixed signals... that turned into green lights. We did not recognise that Russia does not think like we do," Mr Tillerson would say.


To achieve the stability foundational to peace and security in the 21st century, American leadership must not only be renewed, it must also be asserted.

MR REX TILLERSON, on how new global realities must be addressed.

Mr Tillerson, like Mr Trump, will express a dim view of China's aggressive moves in the South China Sea, such as its building of an island to serve as a military base. "China's island-building in the South China Sea is an illegal taking of disputed areas without regard for international norms," he would say.

As Mr Trump inherits from Mr Obama the challenge of containing North Korea's nuclear programme, Mr Tillerson will signal a move to exert more pressure on China to help.

"We cannot continue to accept empty promises like the ones China has made to pressure North Korea to reform, only to shy away from enforcement. Looking the other way when trust is broken only encourages more bad behaviour. And it must end," he would say.

To him, the challenges posed by China, North Korea, Iran and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria represent new global realities that must be addressed with an assertive US. "To achieve the stability that is foundational to peace and security in the 21st century, American leadership must not only be renewed, it must also be asserted."

The Wall Street Journal reported that Mr Tillerson, the wealthy former chief executive of Exxon-Mobil, plans to use an unusual interpretation of US tax law to spread out taxes owed on his retirement package over the next decade, instead of paying more than US$70 million (S$100.6 million) immediately.

The Journal said that the move could save Mr Tillerson more than US$10 million if Mr Trump gets through the US Congress a tax reform plan that cuts individual tax rates.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2017, with the headline 'Nominee Tillerson to voice concerns about '. Subscribe