United States President-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday (Dec 13) officially selected Mr Rex Tillerson (picture), the chief executive of Exxon Mobil, to be his Secretary of State. In saying he will nominate Mr Tillerson, Mr Trump is dismissing bipartisan concerns that the globe-trotting leader of an energy giant has a too-cozy relationship with Mr Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia.
“His tenacity, broad experience and deep understanding of geopolitics make him an excellent choice for Secretary of State. He will promote regional stability and focus on the core national security interests of the United States,” Mr Trump said in a statement released by his transition team on Tuesday.
“Rex knows how to manage a global enterprise, which is crucial to running a successful State Department, and his relationships with leaders all over the world are second to none.”
Mr Tillerson said he shared Mr Trump’s “vision for restoring the credibility of the United States’ foreign relations and advancing our country’s national security”.
“We must focus on strengthening our alliances, pursuing shared national interests and enhancing the strength, security and sovereignty of the United States,” he added.
Mr Trump’s statement brought an end to his public deliberations over the nation’s top diplomat — a process that at times veered from rewarding Mr Rudolph Giuliani, one of his most loyal supporters, to musing about whether Mr Mitt Romney, one of his most vicious critics, might be forgiven.
Instead, Mr Trump has decided to risk what looks to be a bruising confirmation fight in the Senate. In the past few days, Republican and Democratic lawmakers had warned that Mr Tillerson would face intense scrutiny over his two-decade relationship with Russia, which awarded him its Order of Friendship in 2013, and with Mr Putin.
The hearings will also put a focus on Exxon Mobil’s business dealings with Moscow. The company has billions of dollars in oil contracts that can go forward only if the US lifts sanctions against Russia, and Mr Tillerson’s stake in Russia’s energy industry could create a very blurry line between his interests as an oilman and his role as America’s leading diplomat.
Mr Trump settled on Mr Tillerson, a dealmaker who has spent the past four decades at Exxon, much of it in search of oil and gas agreements in troubled parts of the world.
As Secretary of State, Mr Tillerson, 64, would face a new challenge: Nurturing alliances around the world that are built less on deals and more on diplomacy. He will also have to manage the difficult relationship between the US and Russia as well as rows with China.
Beijing has rebuked Mr Trump over his criticisms on current American policy towards Taiwan, including questioning whether the Washington should continue its “One China” policy, with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi saying on Monday that anyone who challenges China’s interests in Taiwan will “lift a rock only to crush his own toes”.
Chinese state media have also slammed Mr Trump. “Beijing should be prepared for the worst-case scenarios, particularly regarding Taiwan, as a presumptuous and ill-guided Trump looks set to usher in an era of turmoil,” the state-run China Daily said in an editorial on Tuesday, accompanied by a cartoon of the billionaire politician sitting on a powder keg.
Global Times, offshoot of the official People’s Daily, warned in its editorial on Tuesday that “pride goes before a fall”, and said Mr Trump had lost the “strategic initiative” by revealing his strategy of “blackmailing” China.
Mr Tillerson emerged as a contender on the strong recommendations of Mr James Baker, the Secretary of State under President George HW Bush, and Mr Robert Gates, the former defence secretary, according to a person briefed on the process.
Mr Trump’s son-in-law, Mr Jared Kushner, and his chief strategist Stephen Bannon argued strongly for Mr Tillerson, and the President-elect was intrigued.
Mr Trump met with Mr Tillerson for more than two hours on Saturday at Trump Tower in Manhattan. He described Mr Tillerson as in a different “league” than his other options.
Mr Romney acknowledged on Tuesday in a Facebook post that he had been passed over, writing: “It was an honour to have been considered for Secretary of State of our great country. My discussions with President-elect Trump have been both enjoyable and enlightening. I have very high hopes that the new administration will lead the nation to greater strength, prosperity and peace.” AGENCIES