US allies including South Korea and Australia have recently complained that China is exerting pressure on them through economic means. China is the largest trading partner of South Korea and Australia, which have disputes with China over Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and the South China Sea issues, respectively.
Tillerson's remarks are surprising as the US is the very country that has openly used economic elements as a diplomatic weapon. The US is a typical country which has used the economic sanctions the most. A mere mention of economic sanctions will prompt people around the world to associate the concept with Washington.
The US has also forced other countries to align their actions with its economic sanctions against a certain target country or region. If a third country is lenient with that target economy, the US will threaten with sanctions on the third country. Currently, Washington and its allies have strongly urged China to enforce economic sanctions on North Korea and use the forcefulness of China's sanctions as a metric to judge Beijing morally.
Apart from frequent sanctions, the US has sought to legalize its economic sanctions on other countries. In other words, economic sanctions are the US' "standard weapons." Countries around the world that have faced economic sanctions by the US are numerous. Washington uses economic sanctions as freely as one fishes out small change from one's own pocket.
Despite being a trade and investment powerhouse, China has not developed a mode of diplomacy which seeks to use economic means to solve problems. First of all, China does not believe that economic sanctions can help resolve major diplomatic differences and we have seen many economic sanctions by the US prove to be futile. Furthermore, the principle of equality and reciprocity is deeply rooted among the Chinese people, and many Chinese people do not think that sanctions are options that can be put on table. Also, sanctions can always result in two-way losses, a fact which makes China wary of using sanctions as a weapon.
The Chinese government has never openly announced to impose economic sanctions on any country even if political conflicts cause damages to the economic and trade relations between China and a certain country. Beijing has never used the rhetoric of "sanction," which is hugely different from Washington. This reflects Beijing's restraint.
However, when major issues arise in political relations between countries, it is inevitable that the impact will spread to the economic arena. When South Korea decided to deploy THAAD, which invoked public outrage in China, it is natural that South Korea's tourism and entertainment industry would be impacted. It would be absurd if the Chinese government encourages Chinese tourists to travel to South Korea and Chinese viewers to watch South Korean TV soap operas at this moment. The ordinary people will not accept that.
The ordinary Chinese are both patriotic and practical. Market economy has advanced so much that China will not arbitrarily wage a trade war with another country. But if the actions of another country severely harm China's interest and spark public wrath, such wrath will become a catalyst for policy actions and economic revenge might ensue.
It is time for US allies in the Asia-Pacific region to take heed. Their alliance with the US cannot be used to harm China's core interest. If they accept China as their largest trading partner, they should show their due respect to their relations with China.
It is worth noting that China has never imposed "US-style sanctions" against any country. The actions China has taken are mostly aimed at expressing its discontent.
Washington's demand for Beijing to not "weaponize trade" is baffling and absurd. The double standard Washington applies to other countries can be well described by old Chinese sayings such as "The magistrates are free to burn down houses while the common people are forbidden even to light lamps," and "Do not do to others what you would not have them do to you."
Tillerson's remarks reflect the US' hypocrisy and arrogance as a country. Washington, please reflect on yourself!