Rex Tillerson Backs Aggressive Policy in Disputed South China Sea as Exxon, Russia Eye Region’s Oil and Gas

By Steve Horn, a freelance investigative journalist and past reporter and researcher at the Center for Media and Democracy. Originally published at DeSmogBlog

President Donald Trump‘s newly sworn-in Secretary of State, recently retired ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, turned heads when he expressed support for an aggressive military stance against China’s actions in the disputed South China Sea during his Senate committee hearing and in response to questions from Democratic Party Committee members.

Tillerson’s views on China and the South China Sea territory appear even more concerning against the backdrop of recently aired comments made by Trump’s increasingly powerful chief strategist, Steve Bannon, that the two nations were headed toward war in the next five to 10 years, as reported by the Independent (UK). However, what Tillerson did not reveal in his answers is that Exxon, as well as Russian state-owned companies Gazprom and Rosneft, have been angling to tap into the South China Sea’s offshore oil and gas bounty.

We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops,” Tillerson said at his hearing, speaking of the man-made islands China’s military has created in the South China Sea and uses as a military base. “And second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.”

Tillerson, who came under fire during his hearing for maintaining close business ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, was asked for further clarification on what he thinks the U.S. posture toward China should be in one of dozens of questions sent to him by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD). In responding, Tillerson spelled out the bellicose stance he believes the U.S. should take toward China, a country Trump has often said should be handled with a metaphorical iron fist.


Image Credit: U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

Sean Spicer, White House Press Secretary and Communications Director, echoed this in a recent press briefing, stating that, “The U.S. is going to make sure that we protect our interests there.”

“It’s a question of if those islands are in fact in international waters and not part of China proper, then yeah, we’re going to make sure that we defend international territories from being taken over by one country,” said Spicer.

While President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took a rather hawkish U.S. foreign policy stance toward China known as the Pacific “pivot,” these developments under the new administration appear to take tensions with China to a new level.

The Chinese government sees the Trump White House and Tillerson’s recent statements, if carried out, as an act of “war” toward the country, which Beijing says would not be allowed to stand unchallenged.

A DeSmog investigation shows that “our interests” (to quote Spicer) overlap suspiciously often with those of ExxonMobil, Gazprom, and Rosneft.

South China Sea, Exxon, Gazprom

Exxon’s offshore oil and gas ties in the region circle the South China Sea from Vietnam and the Philippines to Indonesia and Malaysia. Gazprom also maintains business ties with Vietnam. While most western oil majors have veered away from tapping into this oil and gas, Exxon has not shied away.

“Unlike other Western oil majors, which have usually taken a wait-and-see approach when drilling in the disputed waters, ExxonMobil appeared unfazed by the political uncertainty in the region and maintained extensive business links with almost every Southeast Asian country,” wrote the South China Morning Post.

A leaked 2006 U.S. State Department cable published by Wikileaks shows that “China began to warn oil majors against conducting oil exploration activities in the disputed South China Sea in 2006, the year Tillerson became ExxonMobil’s chairman and chief executive,” the Morning Post further detailed.

According to U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data from 2013, the South China Sea contains 11 billion barrels of oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Image Credit: U.S. Energy Information Administration

As Lee Fang and I recently revealed for The Intercept, while Tillerson served as CEO of Exxon, the U.S. Department of State directly intervened on the company’s behalf to help the company win favorable financial terms to tap into that offshore oil and gas in countries which own offshore oil and gas in the South China Sea in both Vietnam and Indonesia.

Vietnam

On January 12, the New York Times became the first news outlet to dig into Exxon’s bounty of South China Sea offshore oil and gas and how it could possibly relate to Tillerson’s hardline views on the disputed territory there.

“What is also not clear is the extent to which Mr. Tillerson’s tough stance on the South China Sea springs from his extensive experience in the region during his time as chief executive of Exxon Mobil, when his company became embroiled in bitter territorial disputes over the extensive oil and gas reserves beneath the seafloor,” wrote the Times. “During his tenure, the company forged close ties to the Vietnamese government, signing an agreement in 2009 with a state-owned firm to drill for oil and gas in two areas in the South China Sea.”

That agreement was completed with a “quiet signing given sensitivities with China,” according to a State Department cable published by Wikileaks. ExxonMobil Vietnam’s then-President Russ Berkoben told the State Department that “although EM is uncertain of China’s reaction, it is ready if China reacts,” according to the cable. The deal made Exxon the largest offshore acreage holder in Vietnam, with 14 million acres to explore and tap into.

In 2008, the South China Morning Post reported that Exxon had “been approached by Chinese envoys and told to pull out of preliminary oil deals with Vietnam.” Vietnam stood its ground, telling China that Exxon and other companies had a right to drill in its territorial sea under its laws.

Three years later in 2011, Exxon said it had “encountered hydrocarbons” in the area during its exploratory drilling in a company statement. China reacted with fury, moving its own state-owned oil platform, belonging to China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CONOC), to the same area in 2014.

U.S. Secretary of State at the time John Kerry called CONOC‘s move “aggressive” and “provocative,” with the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi telling Kerry to “speak and act cautiously” on the issue.

On January 13, PetroVietnam and Exxon announced a $10 billion deal to build a natural gas power plant in the country, set to be sourced with the gas Exxon will tap from the South China Sea via the Ca Voi Xanh offshore field. Exxon will also ship the gas to Vietnam via one of its underwater pipelines.

VietGazprom, Rosneft Vietnam

PetroVietnam also has a joint venture with the Russian state-owned company Gazprom; it goes by the name VietGazprom. Together, they operate five offshore blocks in the South China Sea.

Gazprom began negotiations to buy a 49 percent stake in Vietnam’s sole oil refinery, the Dung Quat refinery, in April 2015 but walked away from the potential deal in January 2016.

Rosneft, the Russian state-owned company which maintains close business ties with Exxon, also has skin in the game for offshore drilling in Vietnam through its subsidiary Rosneft Vietnam. The project is Rosneft’s first international offshore project.

The implementation of projects in Vietnam is one of the priority [sic] of Rosneft’s international strategy,” said Rosneft CEOIgor Sechin, a close ally of Putin, of the project in a March 2016 press release. “The development of offshore fields in one of the most dynamically growing Asia-Pacific region country is a remarkable example of high-tech cooperation with our partners … We appreciate not only the current progress of joint projects implementation in Vietnam, but also the future prospects for their development.”

Rosneft and PetroVietnam signed a joint cooperation agreement in May 2016, which includes but is not limited to offshore drilling, that will further bolster the ties between Rosneft and Vietnam in the South China Sea.

“The agreement provides for the expansion of cooperation between the parties in Russia, Vietnam and third countries in the area of hydrocarbon exploration and production (including offshore), processing, commerce and logistics, as well as staff training,” reads a Rosneft press release. “The parties agreed to consider potential options for joint projects and define the basic terms of cooperation as well as establish a working group for each of the areas of cooperation.”

Rosneft also co-owns the underwater Nam Con Son Pipeline on a 32.7 percent basis through its subsidiary Rosneft Vietnam Pipelines, which is also owned on a 51 percent basis by PetroVietnam.

Indonesia

Exxon is a co-owner of the production sharing agreement between Indonesian state-owned company Pertamina and Thailand state-owned company PTT Public Company Limited, the three of which produce offshore gas from the East Natuna field.

In recent months, as with Vietnam, tensions have ratcheted up between Indonesia and China over the disputed territory in the South China Sea.

Philippines

Exxon previously had a stake in offshore wells in the Philippines in the South China Sea, which it sold in 2011 to Mitra Energy (now Jadestone Energy). Exxon decided to sell off the wells after it failed to produce commercial-scale levels of oil and gas.

ExxonMobil drilled the four wells to test a new exploration play concept,” Exxon said in a statement in 2011. “While it encountered gas in three of the four wells drilled, non-commercial quantities of gas were found and ExxonMobil will withdraw from [the project] and resign as the operator.”

In 2014, Exxon expressed interest in the Philippines’ offshore reserves up for offer once again, according to an official statement made by the Philippines Department of Energy (DOE). But that bid did not go anywhere, with the DOEsuspending all oil and gas exploration in the area due to the territorial dispute with China.

Malaysia

In 1997 Exxon signed a production sharing agreement with Malaysian state-owned company PETRONAS. Six years later, the two companies began their first major drilling project in the South China Sea at the Bintang natural gas field.

A decade later in March 2013, Exxon began production in Malaysia’s South China Sea-based Telok offshore gas basin, a project it co-owns on a 50-50 basis with PETRONAS.

Exxon began phase two of Telok with PETRONAS in 2014, with the two projects together making up 15 percent of the country’s oil production and half its natural gas output. That same year, Exxon signed another $2.6 billion 50-50 ownership stake deal with PETRONAS for an enhanced oil recovery project in the South China Sea.

“Exxon’s Malaysian subsidiary operates 34 platforms in 12 fields and has an interest in another 10 platforms in five fields in the South China Sea,” reported the Houston Chronicle, putting the enhanced oil recovery project deal into context. “Those fields supply about 20 percent of Malaysia’s crude oil output and condensate and 50 percent of Peninsular Malaysia’s natural gas needs.”

“Oil-Coated Glasses”

Today, Tillerson has sold all of his Exxon stock, which normally would have been deferred to him over a period of time post-retirement. Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) recently said he worries Tillerson will see the world through “oil-coated glasses,” given Exxon’s multicontinental reach to every continent on the planet besides Antarctica.

But as the South China Sea shows, even if not dealing directly with oil and gas reserves, “black gold” can still loom large when considering geopolitical and foreign policy negotiations. Some believe Tillerson, from that vantage point, is a fatally flawed choice.

The proportion of Tillerson’s job that would have the appearance of conflict is just enormous,” David Arkush, managing director for Public Citizen’s climate program, recently told Bloomberg. “If someone has to recuse himself from that many matters, he has no business being in that role.”

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34 comments

  1. Dpeezy

    This is the only Trump dynamic that interests me..

    He has Bannon and Tillerson on his staff who absolutely hate China. On the other hand, Trump’s business is in process of building 20-30 hotels in China right now. A lot of Trump’s suits/ties are made in China. His son-in-law Kushner is in process of deal in place with them to fix his property in NYC. And lastly, the largest tenant in Trump Towers in NYC is the International Commercial Bank of China. He is laid, paid, and pretty much made by China.

    Who wins out here? Family or his staff?

    Reply
    1. RUKidding

      This isn’t the only Trump dynamic that interests me, but it’s one of the bigger ones. You elaborate on the issues here, whereby the Trump family businesses have deep ties with China, whereas Tillerson & Bannon hate China. Tillerson’s bellicosity is both interesting and extreme.

      Somewhere early on after he was elected, Trump started talking about building a fleet of giant Navy war ships to be deployed mainly in the China sea as a bulwark against China (note: possibly he also discussed this during the campaign, but I don’t know for sure). So this is something Trump’s talked about, in spite of his family/business ties to China.

      How this plays out remains to be seen.

      Reply
      1. Webstir

        RUKidding:
        It seems you approach this topic from the stance that Trump would have something to lose by not dealing amicably with the Chinese. But let’s assume, and I don’t think it’s a risky assumption, that Trump’s China deals aren’t working out for him the way he envisioned — that’s he’s in massive debt, and now, since he’s the big cheese, it would not be in China’s interest to let him continue to advance his interests.
        That certainly changes the calculus. Conflict just allows him to write all that off.

        I’ve often said there is no such thing as debt in regard to a hegemonic power. Who’s going to collect?

        Reply
        1. RUKidding

          What you speculate is certainly possible, and I’ve always figured that whatever Trump decides to do will be heavily calculated/biased upon what’s in it for Trump, himself, and his family businesses.

          I was surprised about the proposed new fleet of Navy warships to threaten China with, considering his apparent deep ties with China. But, if as you speculate, he’s in debt to the Chinese, well… Trump loves nothing more than to slime out of his debts.

          I guess time will tell, but it’s interesting that two of his more top advisors are China haters. That certainly indicates where Trump’s feelings must lie for whatever reason.

          Reply
      2. nonsense factory

        We also had the TPP which looked more like a security cooperation deal than any kind of trade deal; Ashton Carter said it was more important than a aircraft carrier battle group as far as promoting “American national interests” in the region. Note also that Tillerson promotes the ExxonMobil line on the TPP, not the Trump opposition. In a 2013 speech as ExxonMobil CEO, Tillerson said:

        “One of the most promising developments on this front is the ongoing effort for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. . . By exporting natural gas – which is currently restricted by federal policies in the United States – the United States could shore up the energy security of Asian allies and trading partners and stimulate investment in American domestic production.”

        Obama of course assisted in opening up the doors to U.S. oil & gas exports in 2015:
        https://www.bloomberg.com. . .Dec 2015
        Energy costs for American consumers are likely to get jacked up; I also wonder if Tillerson views tension with Iran as a means to jack up global oil prices which would tend to benefit ExxonMobil’s bottom line.

        Reply
  2. hidflect

    Whatever happened to Obama’s Kennedy-esque sounding “pivot to Asia”. Never happened. He let the Chinese get themselves so far into their own ego trip and now no one can pull back. A casual glance at the region of the South China Sea that China claims sovereignty over (pretty much all of it) reveals the truth that something has to be done.

    Reply
  3. ToivoS

    This is a very dangerous situation. The Chinese have been preparing for decades to engage the US Navy in the South China Sea. If it comes to a shooting war there is a very good chance that the Chinese will be able to sink any US frigate or destroyer and maybe even an air craft carriers if they come within 1000 miles from the Chinese mainland. Of course, any Chinese surface ship would be sunk also. If such a war broke out how would the US public react seeing a few thousand US sailors lost inside a few days? This could easily go nuclear.

    Reply
  4. Fiver

    It would be a catastrophe even if it didn’t go nuclear – the amount of conventional death and destruction on both sides would be so appalling the idea of a ‘win’ would be meaningless.

    Reply
  5. blert

    The amount of prospective oil and gas is a JOKE compared to the market.

    The real rationale for this entire scheme is rank climbing within the PLAN.

    On a lareger basis, it’s RUIN for the CCP and Red China.

    For all of the palaver … you’d think this was 10x the Persian Gulf.

    Reply
  6. PH

    I never thought Trump was a peace candidate.

    I predict that the next bubble to burst will be the idea that Establishment Republicans are the main opposition to Trump.

    Anyway, we should fear the appeal of Trump’s jingoism in the crumbling and grumbling quarters. Right wing fanaticism has often proved popular.

    Reply
  7. Katharine

    It is annoying that neither this article nor the linked one about the creation of the islands shows clearly where they are. The South China Sea is a big place. If they are close to the coast of China, I don’t see how we could have a legitimate argument against them, any more than Mexico might have against our oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico–less, in fact, because Mexico might suffer harm from mismanagement of those rigs.

    Reply
    1. pictboy3

      It does, but it just doesn’t identify what the islands are actually called. The Spratley’s and the Paracels are the two big island (using that term loosely) chains that are in dispute. They’re labeled on the map there.

      Reply
    2. KurtisMayfield

      The PRC has zero claim on the Spratly islands other than it has created a military presence there. Heck the Vietnamese fought a Naval battle against them in 1988.

      Johnson Reef Skirmish wiki

      It seems Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines have the most to lose here. Is what we are looking forward to a SE Asian alliance against China? The US would be playing the role of the British Empire again it seems, all to protect the sea lanes of capitalism.

      Reply
    3. Mary

      1) Geography: Over 1,000 features form 2 separate islands chains called Paracel (north) and Spratly (400 miles further south of Paracel). According to the ruling July, 2016 by UNCLOS’s Permanent Court of Arbitration – all of these features are “rocks”, not islands – thus, can’t sustain life and has no Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) on its own even with man-made efforts to expand them (like China did). Some features on the western edge of Paracel are inside Vietnam’s EEZ but none is inside China’s EEZ as measured from their Hainan island. In the Spratly chain, most features are inside the EEZ’s of the Philippines (west), Vietnam (east) and Brunei, Malaysia (south) with overlaps between Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia – the closest (north) features are 700 miles from China. From proximity point of view, China is the furthest from Paracel in dispute with Vietnam and also the furthest from Spratly in dispute with Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines (also some waters within Indonesia’s EEZ as measured from Natuna islands). 2) History: all China-controlled features today were resulted from direct and recent invasions of Vietnam-controlled territories (some dated back to 1800’s): all of Paracel in 1974, killing 78 Vietnamese sailors and 7 rocks in 1988, killing 64 unarmed Vietnamese construction crews (google Spratly massacre). 3) Legality: Although almost 1.4 millions SM (south of Taiwan to west of Singapore, Malaysia), South China Sea is not a big place when factored in EEZ rights of all neighboring nations, which are exactly the claims of Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam – while China (and Taiwan) history-based claims 80-90% of all these waters. As of July 2016, this China claim ruled illegal by the UN (UNCLOS-PCA).

      Reply
  8. Sam Adams

    Oceania was at war with Eastasia: Oceania had always been at war with
    Eastasia. A large part of the political literature of five years was now
    completely obsolete. Reports and records of all kinds, newspapers, books,
    pamphlets, films, sound-tracks, photographs–all had to be rectified at
    lightning speed. Although no directive was ever issued, it was known that
    the chiefs of the Department intended that within one week no reference
    to the war with Eurasia, or the alliance with Eastasia, should remain in
    existence anywhere.

    Reply
    1. JohnnyGL

      Steve Bannon and Tillerson both want to get rough with China.

      DC Beltway pundit/think tank crowd want to get rough with Russia

      Michael Flynn wants to get rough with Iran.

      Worst case scenario….they ALL get their way!!!

      Best case scenario….they all get in each other’s way and NONE get what they want.

      Reply
        1. allan

          Fortunately, Tillerson is staffing up with experienced, seasoned hands. From @Andrea Mitchell:

          Tillerson expected to pick Elliot Abrams as Deputy at State. Former Reagan State Dept official experienced conservative knows the Dept.

          Where “knows the Dept.” means “was convicted of lying to Congress about Iran-Contra.”
          On the bright side, there might be some guys in Tehran who are still grateful for the missiles.

          Reply
  9. Persona au gratin

    “And second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.”

    Allowed? Really? How delicious will the irony be when the jackboot of hegemony (or at least regional superiority) finally changes feet, as it will this century? Watching the already failing US MICC attempt to continue to throw its weight around has degenerated into pure reality TV comedy gold. The aging Boomers in charge these days (I’m one too) have really taking a liking to consuming their own bullshit. Unfortunately, they’ve also been bequeathed nuclear toys, which they no longer have the good sense to have any respect for. Oh yeah, this is definitely going to end well alright!

    Reply
  10. Webstir

    And …. let the resource wars begin. How does one say Lebensraum in Mandarin? The Chinese economic machine must be fed.

    It was only a matter of time until our surreal economic systems built on the concept of perpetual growth ran headlong into the very real problem finite resources. Solution? Waste even more resources in a war to determine who has the biggest stick, and therefore, rightful claim to the resources.

    Way to go homo sapiens! And people say it’s our rationality that separate us from other species. Well … irrational people say that, anyway. I don’t.

    Reply
  11. Susan

    Just checked back to see that no one has yet mentioned having seen Pilger’s The Coming War On China. It’s on youtube, fyi. The maps, and the ranges of the missiles are on full display in the film.

    Reply
    1. RBHoughton

      Yes, I have seen it Susan. Thanks for mentioning – its classic Pilger who must be approaching his 80th year! I live in Hong Kong which is shown within the range of the nukes on Okinawa that figure in the film.

      I read last week that China’s response to Mr Tillerson’s threats has been to move their long range ICBMs up to the Amur River where the whole of North America is within range. I suppose the response will be some testosterone-enriched chap saying ‘my club is bigger than your club’ in the familiar way.

      Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a few women in authority Susan?

      Reply
  12. DH

    This map should look very familiar and very worrying. This is the identical region that Japan targeting in 1941-42 after the US and Great Britain cutoff oil and rubber exports to Japan. The South China Sea is a continuous powder keg just waiting for a spark – its just different major players every few decades based on the geo-political players at the time. http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/special/japan_1900_power.htm

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greater_East_Asia_Co-Prosperity_Sphere

    Reply
  13. SteveInNC

    Has anyone seen any consideration of splitting the military aspects of this from the economic aspects?

    That’s somewhat of a rhetorical question because of the largely unquestioned assumption (in the MSM, not here) that global US military hegemony is natural and good, but to me, it is the economic resource-grab aspects of China’s claim that are most concerning.

    I think that for internal political reasons – the Chinese govt. cannot create universally rising quality of life for its citizens – they are giving them aggressive nationalism instead; they cannot back down or they risk serious civil unrest. For that reason, and to avoid a catastrophic war, there must be some compromise. A viable compromise might be to acknowledge China’s security interests in the area, allow some building in international waters, with the caveat that those artificial islands have no EEZ, allow other states to lease facilities in their EEZs if they so choose, but restate the current treaty (UNCLOS I think) on economic zones.

    I realize that this would require the USG to acknowledge that other nations also have interests, which is a point of view not often found inside the Beltway, but it might just work, and could conceivably draw support from the ASEAN nations as well, who would probably be harmed by any regional conflict.

    Reply
  14. Gary Fischer

    This issue is very confusing. To me, a glance at the map indicates that China’s claim to the islands and points south is way out of line with international treaties. Respondents here say: It’s all to protect capitalist sea lanes. Compromise is necessary because China can’t back down. In a conflict, China may be able to destroy any U.S. vessel within 1000 miles. The prospective amount of oil and gas is a drop in the bucket of world production, and not worth the risk of war.
    As I understand it, U.S. naval power is vastly superior to China’s. Would American vessels be destroyed with land based missiles, or air power? Should the Philipines be upset that the fortified island are 100 miles from their shore? Multiple entities already have established pipelines and shipping routes in the area. According to Horn, China has been making efforts to keep others out since 2006 and, capitalism aside, doesn’t seem up for cheerfully sharing the bounty with it’s neighbors. If anything should be a matter for international cooperation, equitable allotment of energy supplies is it ( I know, good luck with that). I don’t see how this is merely a matter of capitalist greed, or favoring Russia. When one side in a negotiation starts saying certain things can’t be questioned or they’ll get Very Angry, it’s a whole new phase.

    Reply
    1. Jeotsu

      Sea denial is very different from sea control. Meaning it is much easier to sink ships than it is to keep the afloat.

      China has invested heavily in short range ballistic missiles (DF-21s) designed for engaging warships (read: carrier battle groups). For the carriers to get into aircraft/missile range of China, they themselves are at risk of sub-orbital counterstrike.

      If it came to an all-out shooting war (non-nuclear) between USA and China the first 48 hours would be an orgy of guided missile destruction, and then it would likely become a race of productive capacity to replace those missiles. The USNavy only has IIRC, 1.5 reloads for every vertical launcher in the fleet. Meaning once the missiles are gone, you are down to factory-speed for their replacements.

      Who wants to get into an industrial capacity war with China?

      China is also rapidly modernizing its military. They too know conflict (may) be coming. Aircraft like the J21 long-range stealth fighters if in large operational numbers could play merry havoc with a lot of US air war doctrine.

      Reply
  15. Fiver

    China as ‘threat’ has been officially in the cards ever since the Pentagon did its study/projection back in 2008 (IIRC) with respect to a race for global resources that would, they posited, come to a head circa 2020 – though in some respects the oil thinking goes back to 9/11 and subsequent Cheney secret energy committee.

    The US has been unambiguously engaged in efforts to ensure its own control of global oil supplies and markets for so long it is long forgotten virtually none of its activities in this regard have been legitimate. Whether by wars (Iraq-Iran War, Iraq Wars, Libya, Sudan) or sanctions (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Venezuela) or control via utter corruption or induced desperation (Saudi Arabia & Gulf Kingdoms, Nigeria, Indonesia, Angola, Central Asian ‘stans, Ukraine) or financial markets (Brazil) or a friendly gun to the head (Canada) only oil actually in Russia, China or Iran has eluded US grasp and even Russia’s oil was tantalizingly close to being secured until Putin appeared.

    The point is that from a Chinese perspective it is ludicrous for the US to be essentially demanding control of a potentially significant deposit of a resource China desperately needs strategically with its own oil production peaking, a resource so much closer in proximity to China than all the oil the US controls elsewhere. Even more importantly for China, though, is its right as a global giant with enormous trade flows to defend the sea routes by which its global trade is conducted, as is normal for large States with large interests. But as the record clearly shows, the US is at its most exceptional when it comes to embracing double standards.

    As to Tillerson himself, I would expect, aside from a very aggressive effort to curb production in targeted States, enforce US oil policy globally, and commit serious resources to destroying environmental movements wherever they be, he will do everything in his now considerable power to increase Exxon’s own reserves which, as with other US majors, have been ever-harder and more expensive to maintain.

    I put the odds of one or more conflicts as horrific as Iraq at about 90%. If I was China, I would back off now vis a vis these islands, quintuple the number of brains working on energy alternatives and sustainability and double-quintuple efforts to come up with a game-changer for defensive purposes. The US is not going to relent in its long march towards a unipolar, financial/corporate, global Empire even as it rips itself and the rest of the West apart in the process.

    Reply
    1. Persona au gratin

      On the other hand, I think China might have already realized that Trump is often about bluster, and plan accordingly. Not that whatever Trump threatens is necessarily baseless, but more that it should be considered as part of a larger poker game, more often than not full of cleverly concealed (or not) feints and slights. In other words, “the art of the dance” played once again, this time without all the passive-aggressive pseudo-intellectual bullshit applied by the Liberal Dem “callers of the dance.”

      Reply
  16. blert

    One might note that a single hurricane// cyclone ought to entirely erase the Chinese constructions.

    The South China Sea is a hurricane alley — no doubt about it.

    Ask Admiral Halsey about it.

    I recommend that we let mother nature take care of the PLAN’s fantasies.

    Reply
  17. Seamus Padraig

    The Russians are not going to turn on the Chinese. If that’s what Tillerson’s hoping for, he’s going to be very disappointed.

    Reply
  18. Mary

    The catalyst in the onward march of western civilization has always come from a tiny group of very successful sociopaths with their larger group of hanger-on enablers taking control of society while the rest of the trusting population follow along compliantly but rebelling every now and then when the resulting economic inequality became too flagrant. It does not matter what ism is currently in vogue. While the technology changes over time overturning the cast of characters, the basic dynamic remains the same. Our much vaunted rationality has enabled us to think beautiful thoughts and make life saving discoveries but in the end the sociopaths always manage to channel that positive potential into war and exploitation of others to increase their wealth and power. While most people flail about in desperate straits, I don’t see society as a whole unhooking from their tech toys and the MSM corporatist drivel long enough to displace, through vote or violence, the sociopaths from power. We will probably continue down this deadly path until we unleash in full strength the nukes and/or the climate change which will generate a massive factory reset sending us back to civilization 1.01. Our underlying ethos….. promulgated by the powerful, with its emphasis on rugged individualism, aggressive competition, consumerism, social Darwinism, and a general “heroic outlook” celebrating deeds of fame and wealth and those who have it…. provides a cultural framework that pre-selects uniquely for sociopaths to flourish. So even if we manage to throw out the current batch of sociopaths in power, they will probably ultimately be replaced by another batch of sociopaths posturing under another brand. How do we change the entire mind set of a whole civilization to one that celebrates cooperation and egalitarianism…values which are poisonous to sociopaths. Sociopaths are currently the ones with the vast array of think tanks and Fox News spigots spewing out the mantra that there is no society. There are just individuals making good (winners) or bad (losers) choices. Too bad for the losers. They’re fired.

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