Critics have questioned U.S. Secretary of State and ex-ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson’s ties to Russia through his former employer’s fossil development ventures in the Arctic Ocean. But they may be looking at the wrong part of the globe.
Tillerson also raised eyebrows during his confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate when he unexpectedly asserted that China should not be allowed to assert regional hegemony over the South China Sea. That comment might trace back to another deal Exxon was working on during his time as CEO.
Over China’s objections, the company has been exploring offshore hydrocarbon fields in the South China Sea under permit from Vietnam since about 2008, DeSmog Blog reports, in an in-depth examination of the ties between Exxon, Vietnam, and Russia’s state oil and gas companies. In 2011, the company discovered gas, and “on January 13, PetroVietnam and Exxon announced a $10-billion deal to build a natural gas power plant in the country, sourced with the gas Exxon will tap from the South China Sea via underwater pipeline.”
The DeSmog report details other Exxon involvement in the region in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, all of which have brushed up against Chinese pushback for operating in areas of the South China Sea that the regional giant claims as its own.
Vietnam and Gazprom, Russia’s state gas company, also have a joint venture tapping gas in five disputed areas of the South China Sea. And Russia’s oil company, Rosneft, holds drilling contracts with the southeast Asian country.
“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,” writes DeSmog’s Steven Horn.
“We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops,” Tillerson said during his Senate hearing, “and second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.”