Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signaled the Trump administration’s growing impatience with China on issues from North Korea to trade, saying now’s the time to go public with concerns that the U.S. has raised privately with the country’s leaders for months.
In an interview at the State Department in Washington, Tillerson said Thursday that the U.S. isn’t necessarily frustrated with China but made clear the administration wants more progress.
“I think it is important that China knows — OK, we’ve been having these conversations now for about six months,” Tillerson said. “We’re expecting to see some change, we’re expecting to see some movement, whether it’s North Korea, or whether it’s South China Sea, or whether it’s trade.”
Tillerson’s remarks follow a speech he gave Wednesday in which he accused China of undermining the “international, rules-based order” and called it out for “provocative actions in the South China Sea.” He visited China earlier this month and is likely to accompany President Donald Trump on an early November trip through Asia, including a stop in Beijing.
The top U.S. diplomat made clear that the comments delivered in Wednesday’s speech — where he also criticized Chinese financing that he said leaves developing countries saddled with debt — weren’t off-the-cuff. He made them as Chinese leaders were meeting in Beijing for a once-every-five-years Communist Party Congress outlining the government’s strategy on the world stage.
“There was nothing in that speech yesterday that we haven’t had a thorough exchange with our Chinese counterparts in these private dialogues,” Tillerson, the former chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil Corp., said. “At some point there comes a time when it’s appropriate to go ahead and start sharing with the rest of the world that we’ve talked about this.”
That pressure is part of a delicate balance that Tillerson must maintain as the U.S. seeks China’s help in cutting off North Korea’s economy. Tillerson has said China can do more to coerce North Korea into giving up its nuclear-weapons program.
Responding to Tillerson’s speech earlier Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang called on the U.S. to “abandon its biased views of China and make concerted efforts with China to focus on cooperation.”