Bracing for TillersonExxonMobile chief executive Rex Tillerson is the surprising, unconventional choice by U.S. president-elect Donald J. Trump to become the first business tycoon without experience in traditional diplomacy or government to become the top diplomat for the world’s most powerful country. The global stage is in the hands of a corporate tycoon whose entire career had been in the oil business.
Tillerson, the 64-year-old chairman of the world’s largest oil company joined Exxon in 1975 straight out of the University of Texas in Austin with a civil engineering degree and has never left. He runs operations in dozens of countries and cut out blockbuster deals in the rough-and-tough world of oil-making, building close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his former KGB buddy Igor Sechin, head of Russian state oil giant Rosneft — with whom he struck a multibillion-dollar deal to have access to the Russian Arctic oil shelf.
Washington’s foreign policy could head into a nontraditional direction under the navigation of the duo of anti-Beijing Trump and Moscow-friendly Tillerson. The United States can team up with Russia to gang upon their common enemy of China. It would be the entirely the opposite of the 1970s when Washington warmed up to Beijing to contain the Soviet Union.
Under this ominous context, Seoul may be pressured to take its side between contentious Washington and Beijing. The Inter-Korean relationship could chill further under renewed ideological battle. Seoul’s foreign policy team must fast understand the new playing field under Secretary of State Tillerson and map out a subtle action plan.
What must not be underestimated is that Tillerson actually could be well-versed in international affairs for a businessman. He has been working as a trustee for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He could apply his rich experience from oil fields in various countries, including the most troubled corners in the world, to diplomacy. Unlike Trump, Tillerson champions free trade. We must plead to his business side to prevent a redesigning of the Korea-U.S. free trade deal to disadvantage Korean interests.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 14, Page 34