- ANDY WONG/AFP/Getty Images
- China had issues with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson but the country would likely prefer him to CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
- Tillerson was seen as a moderating influence in the Oval Office, and was reportedly concerned over tariffs that have angered China.
- An expert on Chinese foreign policy told Business Insider that Tillerson is “better” than Pompeo who is considered to be “hawkish.”
China had a fraught relationship with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, but likely prefers his foreign policy approach over that of his expected successor CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
Tillerson, who was fired by US President Donald Trump on Tuesday, ruffled feathers in Beijing before he was even sworn into office last year with tough comments on China’s development in the South China Sea.
He spent the following year warning of China’s growing influence in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. And just last weekend, China lambasted the secretary for making “groundless accusations” about potential strings attached to China’s soaring investments in Africa.
Despite this, experts believe China might be sad to see Tillerson go, since he largely tried to maintain historic US foreign policy positions.
“China is not too happy with Tillerson,” Feng Zhang, an expert in Chinese foreign policy at the Australian National University, told Business Insider.
“But if you’re talking about broad foreign policy orientations then the fact that Pompeo has made some remarks in the past which essentially says the same thing about China being a big competitor of the US, as Trump has said, those are worrying signs.”
While Pompeo is thought be closely aligned to Trump’s aggressive foreign policy, Tillerson was thought to be a moderating influence in the Oval Office.
He openly contradicted the administration on a number of issues, including North Korea and Russia, and was reportedly “getting increasingly angry over the Trump crackdown on China.” Tillerson was also concerned about the consequences that steel and aluminum trade tariffs, which have angered China, would have on US allies.
“He is a moderate [influence], so in a sense he’s better than his successor who is, I believe, a lot more hawkish,” Zhang said.
Hawkish was also the word used by Global Times, a state-run newspaper in China, to describe the current situation in Washington.
“What’s particularly worrisome is that most of the people departing [the White House] are perceived moderates in their modus operandi and views on foreign policy than the ones who remain. This far-reaching reshuffle seems to have increased the prospects of a more hawkish Washington,” the editorial said.
The paper also said Tillerson was “restrained” compared to Pompeo, who “is likely to add more foam to the top, leading to uncertainty and a higher risk.”
However, with the Trump administration’s high turnover, China may not expect Pompeo to last the rest of Trump’s term.
“The team set up by Trump after his election was considered ‘tough.’ Nonetheless, its members waffled soon, and fell by the wayside. There is little reason to believe this pattern will not extend to the newly assembled administration,” Global Times reported.
Zhang largely agreed that China will be treading carefully with the new Secretary. “I believe the Chinese would be somewhat cautious, they’ll wait and see what comes out of it,” he said.