Rex Tillerson is a businessman and former CEO of ExxonMobil, the world's largest oil and gas company. An engineer by training, Tillerson had worked for ExxonMobil for over 40 years before he stepped down as the company's CEO, a position he held from 2006 to 2017. Tillerson has no prior public sector experience, but as a business leader, he has built extensive relationships with foreign leaders, most notably with Russia's Vladimir Putin.
In 2011, ExxonMobil discovered a natural gas field within waters claimed by both China and Vietnam. ExxonMobil's operations in the South China Sea immediately raised concerns from Beijing, who hoped "foreign companies do not get involved in disputed water." Later, ExxonMobil dropped drilling plans after Tillerson met with Wang Yilin, the chairman of state-run China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC), and talked about "further cooperation" between the two companies.
During his confirmation hearing, Tillerson took a tougher stance against China's presence in the South China Sea. He contested China's sovereignty claim in the South China Sea, saying China's "access to those islands is not going to be allowed." Recently, however, he has reportedly pushed the president to reaffirm the One China policy after Trump had indicated it should be reconsidered.
- Washington Post, Who is Rex Tillerson?
- Foreign Policy Magazine, Is Tillerson willing to go to war over the South China Sea?
- Financial Times, Tillerson sets stage for clash with Beijing over South China Sea
James Mattis was serving as a fellow at Hoover Institution at Stanford University when nominated for the Secretary of Defense position. Mattis has held various positions during his 40 years of military service in the Marine Corp. He retired from the commander of the US Central Command in 2013.
Mattis is described as a pragmatist who supports assertive US military policy but with careful calculation. During his confirmation hearing, Mattis acknowledged that the US does not possess enough military power to deter China. He also said the US will need to manage the competition with China in the South China Sea. In a written document submitted to the Senate, he highlighted the need to "collaborate and engage with China wherever possible," but also said the US should be prepared to confront China's "inappropriate behaviors" contrary to US interests.
Mattis chose South Korea and Japan as destinations of his inaugural trip. While in South Korea, Mattis defended the the decision to deploy THAAD in South Korea, saying that no nation but North Korea should be concerned about the missile defense system. In Japan, Mattis reaffirmed that the US will continue acknowledging Japan's administration of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. He also said the US will defend these disputed islands based on Article 5 of the US-Japan Security Treaty. On the South China Sea issue, Mattis said there is no need to make "dramatic military moves at all" since disputes should be solved through diplomacy.
- Foreign Policy, Can ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis temper the impulsive President-Elect?
- The Guardian, US Defense Secretary tries to calm Asian jitters- but is undermined at every turn
- Foreign Policy Blog, Mad Dog Mattis on China
- Nikkei Review, Time's up for soft China policy
Wilbur Ross has worked as an investor and a financial adviser specializing in bankruptcy and restructuring distressed businesses. In 2002, he consolidated several bankrupt American steel companies into the International Steel Group. He previously served as a member of the US-Russia Investment Fund under president Bill Clinton and an economic adviser for former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani.
The billionaire holds tough-minded view on trade policy and his WL Ross & Co. hasbenefited enormously from free trade agreements. In 2011, China Investment Corporation, a Chinese sovereign wealth fund, provided $500 million to Diamond S Shipping. This deal was negotiated by Ross, whose WL Ross & Co. is the largest shareholder of Diamond S Shipping. Ross was reluctant to criticize China for its trade policies, but his views have changed recently as he called China "the most protectionist country among very large countries" during his confirmation hearing. In 2016, Ross, along with Peter Navarro, devised the Trump campaign's economic strategy.
Steve Mnuchin was a hedge fund investor and a partner at Goldman Sachs from 1994 to 2002. During the financial crisis, he bought and recovered a bankrupt mortgage bank. His role became controversial as OneWorld, the bank's new name, allegedly foreclosed on over 35,000 homeowners for late payment.
Mnuchin vowed to combat currency manipulation during his confirmation hearing. He said he intends to review the issue upon confirmation and would name China as a currency manipulator if sufficient evidence is present. Mnuchin will also head the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US, an inter-agency body that vets foreign inward investment proposals and investigate lobbying efforts from foreign governments and investors. Some sources claim that Mnuchin is considering selecting Judy Shelton, an economist and a strong supporter of a return to the gold standard, to play an advisory role on the currency issue.
But Mnuchin softened his stance on the currency issue after making separate calls to several high-level Chinese officials, including Vice Premier Wang Yang, Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the People’s Bank of China, and Finance Minister Xiao Jie. On February 23, Mnuchin said the Treasury would determine whether China is a currency manipulator after "a regular review of foreign-exchange markets," according to Bloomberg.
Robert Lighthizer is a law firm partner specializing in defending US firms, notably steel companies, from import competition and helping American businesses enter foreign markets. In the 1980s, he served as Chief of Staff for the Senate Finance Committee and as deputy US Trade Representative in the Reagan administration. Allegedly using trade enforcement measures as leverage, Lighthizer persuaded South Korea, Japan, Mexico, and the European Union to sign “voluntary restraint agreements,” which reduce the volume of exports flowing from these countries to the US.
Often described as a "trade hawk," Lighthizer is a protectionist known for his harsh criticism of China’s trade policies, which he believes have caused tremendous job losses to the steel and manufacturing industries in the US. In 2010, he described the US-China trade deficit as a “threat” to the US economy in testimony submitted to the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
- Vox, Why Trump’s pick for US Trade Representative,Robert Lighthizer, is a big deal
- Foreign Policy, Trump taps protectionist Robert Lighthizer as his new Trade Representative
- New York Times, Trump’s pick on trade could put China in a difficult spot
- The Washington Times, Lighthizer: Donald Trump is no liberal on trade
Terry Branstad is the longest-serving governor in US history, having been the governor of Iowa for 22 years. A lifetime republican, Branstad endorsed Trump during the Republican primaries, and his son served as the president of Trump's campaign in Iowa.
Outside the US, Branstad is known for his close friendship with Chinese president Xi Jinping, whom he first met in 1985. Branstad describes Xi as “personable”. As governor, Branstad has visited China multiple times to promote Iowa’s agricultural products. Chinese officials welcome Branstad's nomination and call him “an old friend of the Chinese people.”
- The Washington Post, Ten things to know about Iowa Governor Terry Branstad
- NPR, An 'old friend Of China' prepares to bridge differences at a fraught time
- The Des Moines Register, Branstad’s nomination shines spotlight on Iowa internationalism
Haley served as the Governor of South Carolina from 2011 to 2017. She is the first female governor of South Carolina and the second Indian-American governor in US history, after Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.
Haley’s views on foreign policy are more in line with mainstream Republicans than many of her peers in the Trump administration. She opposes the Iran nuclear deal signed by the Obama administration as well as the ban on Muslim immigrants proposed by Trump. During her nomination hearing, Haley emphasized the importance of China to the North Korea issue and called for closer US-China cooperation to deal with challenges on the peninsula.
- New York Times, Nikki Haley puts UN on Notice: US is ‘taking names’
- USA Today, Where Nikki Haley and Donald Trump split on foreign policy
- The Washington Post, Nikki Haley addresses the effectiveness of U.S. sanctions against North Korea
Jared Kushner is a real estate investor and a close advisor to Donald Trump, but he is best known as Ivanka Trump’s husband and Donald Trump’s son-in-law. Despite his lack of foreign policy experience, Kushner is serving as Trump’s primary point of contact for senior foreign officials. He has been acting as a “shadow diplomat” behind the first Trump-Abe meeting and recent US-Mexico talks.
Two weeks after Trump’s electoral victory, Kushner was spotted in a meeting with Wu Xiaohui, the chairman of Anbang Insurance Group, at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. According to the New York Times, Kushner and Wu allegedly talked about redeveloping a skyscraper owned by the Kushner family at Midtown of Manhattan. Anbang is a state-owned Chinese financial behemoth and the owner of the Wardolf Hotel, which it purchased for $1.95 billion USD in 2013. A few days after Trump’s inauguration, Kushner had “an extensive ongoing dialogue” with Cui Tiankai, the Chinese ambassador to the US. These close-door meetings had generated positive outcomes, including Ivanka Trump’s visit to the Chinese embassy on February 1 and perhaps Trump's reaffirmation of the "One China" policy to president Xi during their much-delayed phone call.
Jared Kushner -- along with H.R. McMaster and Steve Bannon -- attended a meeting between Donald Trump and Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi on February 28. This is the first high-level meeting between the Trump administration and the Chinese leadership. According to Reuters, both sides discussed shared security interests and a possible meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
- The Hill, Kushner pursuing Chinese real estate project while advising Trump: report
- Bloomberg, China Woos Ivanka, Jared Kushner to Smooth Ties With Trump
- New York Times, Jared Kushner, a Trump In-Law and Adviser, Chases a Chinese Deal
- Salon, China is looking to Jared and Ivanka – not the State Department – to get through to the president
Steve Bannon served as the executive chairman of Breitbart News, the mouthpiece of the radical alt-right movement, and CEO of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. With relatively little experience in public service, Bannon had worked in a wide range of industries in the past, including investment banking, film production, mass media, and other industries.
Bannon is a controversial figure known for his far-right views on foreign policy. He is often described as "the man behind Trump" for his perceived great influence on the "political and ideological foundations" of the president's policy. Bannon is highly skeptical of China's role in the Asia Pacific. In March 2016, Bannon said “there is no doubt” that the US is “going to war in the South China Sea in 5 to 10 years” in a Breitbart radio show. He frequently addresses the peril of conflicts between civilizations, calling China and Islam “expansionist” threats to Western civilization, though he has focused more attention to perceived threats from the Islamic world.
On January 28, President Trump appointed Bannon to be a member of the Principals Committee of the National Security Council. This decision prompted harsh criticisms from the public and former government officials. They expressed concerns that Bannon may bring unwanted political influence to the security policymaking process, thus breaking the nonpartisan nature of this interagency body.
- New Yorker, Steve Bannon will lead Trump's White House
- USA Today, Steve Bannon’s own words show sharp break on security issues
- Foreign Policy, Steve Bannon is making sure there’s no White House paper trail, says Intel Source
- The New York Times, I was on the National Security Council. Bannon doesn’t belong there
General H.R. McMaster is currently serving as the director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center. He is the first active-duty military officer to take the National Security Advisor position after Collin Powell. McMaster is also a military historian with a PhD degree in history. He examined the military's role in the Vietnam War and blamed the Johnson administration for the failed military strategy on the ground in his bestseller, Dereliction of Duty. Because of his blunt and outspoken style, McMaster is often described as "one of the military’s most independent-minded officers."
McMaster has frequently stressed the irreplaceable role of political and human dimensions in modern warfare. In his view, technology alone cannot secure the gains from battlefield. Beside Middle East and military history, McMaster has talked very little about security issues in other regions of the world, but based on available comments, it is reasonable to conclude that he is taking a hard-line on China. In a speech delivered at Virginia Military Institute, McMaster said the US should confront "hostile revisionist powers" such as Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran with "strategic vision." During a discussion on the role of technology in modern warfare, McMaster used China, whose fighter jets resemble the design of F22, as an example to demonstrate technology as a "transferrable advantage that we have in defense to our adversaries."
- The New York Times, Trump Chooses H. R. McMaster as National Security Advisor
- The New York Times, The Pipe Dream of Easy War
- US News and World Report, McMaster May Not Be What Trump Expects
- US News and World Report, 10 Things You Didn't Know About H.R. McMaster
Peter Navarro is a professor of economics and public policy at the University of California Irvine. Beyond his teaching career, Navarro has written over ten books on a wide range of topics, from investment tactics to trade issues.
Navarro is one of the most outspoken critics of Chinese policy in American academia. In 2012, he directed a documentary, “Death by China,” in which he addressed the US-China trade deficit and American job losses to allegedly unfair Chinese competition. In a Trump campaign white paper co-authored with Wilbur Ross, Navarro called China a “currency manipulator” and “the biggest trader cheater in the world.” Navarro’s criticisms of China go far beyond trade and economic issues: he has been advocating for a full-scale US containment of China. In his book “Death by China,” Navarro wrote “it’s time for America to fully and firmly recommit to” Taiwan, asked Congress to pass an act setting out penalties for China’s trade practices, and urged the US government to send “secret emissary missions” out to persuade Chinese party officials to "voluntarily" make currency reforms.
Kenneth Juster has extensive experience in the private and public sectors. He previously served as a managing director at a global investment firm and several high-level positions in the federal government. As Deputy Assistant to the President for International Economic Affairs, Juster will also be the President's representative and lead US negotiator ("Sherpa") for the annual G-7, G-20, and APEC summits.
During his tenure as Under Secretary of Commerce under the Bush Administration, Juster was responsible for negotiating the End-Use Visit Understanding between the United States and China, which facilitated increased experts of U.S. high technology to China.
- The Wall Street Journal, President Donald Trump Picks Kenneth Juster for Key International Economics Post
- The Fiscal Times, Meet the Man Who Will Explain Trump to the World’s Great Economic Powers
- US Department of State, Commerce Department's Juster cites milestone initiatives with China, India
Matt Pottinger is a writer and journalist covering news primarily in the Asia Pacific. Pottinger, a Chinese speaker, started his career as a Beijing-based journalist for The Wall Street Journal and Reuters. He is known for his in-depth knowledge of Chinese society and criticism of the Chinese government. In 2012, he left his journalist position and enlisted in the Marines at the age of 32. In his five years of military service, Pottinger completed one combat deployment in Iraq and two more in Afghanistan. Based on his experience as an intelligence officer, he examined the military intelligence system in a report co-authored with Michael Flynn. After his retirement from the Marines, Pottinger joined The Council on Foreign Relations as a press fellow.
Less than four weeks in office, Flynn resigned from the National Security Advisor position on February 13, making him one of the shortest-serving cabinet-level advisers in recent history. The resignation came amid Flynn's controversial phone call with Russia's ambassador to the US, in which the two allegedly discussed the Obama administration's sanctions against Russia. The Department of Justice informed the White House that Flynn could be "potentially vulnerable to blackmail by Russia."
- New York Times, China pushes back on Michael Flynn’s ‘radical Islamist’ remarks
- The Washington Post, Michael Flynn, a top Trump adviser, ties China and North Korea to Jihadists
- Politico, Michael Flynn resigns
To Be Announced