Tillerson’s fear is that China will simply give up on talks, he said in an interview Wednesday at the KPMG Global Energy Conference in Houston.
“Mutual respect, win-win solutions. These are things they want to hear, and they’re not hearing those,” he said. “It makes it hard for them to adjust” to a different situation. “They still have a framework in which they want to be dealt with.”
“If I have a concern about it, it’s that the Chinese, I hope, do not come to the conclusion that they can’t make a deal with this administration — and [say] we’ll just wait for the next one,” Tillerson said.
But he hedged his view, saying: “I hope that’s not what they’re moving to. I don’t believe it is.” They may simply be “tacking to a different posture for the next round of talks,” he noted. But as an authoritarian government, China has the capability to wait out an impasse, he noted.
Tillerson said he supports many of the trade objectives of the Trump administration but not the “tactical moves that are being made everywhere.” He also opposes a focus on bilateral agreements, which he believes undermine a powerful web of U.S. international alliances built over the last century.
The comments were among the most extensive and pointed made by the former Exxon CEO since he was fired from his Cabinet post last year.
When he spoke out against Donald Trump in December, he criticized the president for frequently pushing him to take actions that were illegal. Trump responded with a tweet calling Tillerson “dumb as a rock” and “lazy as hell.”
Despite the friction between the men, Tillerson said he believes Trump could win in 2020 if he focuses on a “very positive message” on the economy. “I don’t know if that’s what he plans to do,” he added.