The new U.S. administration of President Donald Trump vowed on Monday the United States would prevent China from taking over territory in international waters in the South China Sea, something Chinese state media has warned would require Washington to “wage war.”
The comments at a briefing from White House spokesman Sean Spicer signaled a sharp departure from years of cautious U.S. handling of China’s assertive pursuit of territorial claims in Asia, just days after Trump took office on Friday.
“The U.S. is going to make sure that we protect our interests there,” Spicer said when asked if Trump agreed with comments by his secretary of state nominee, Rex Tillerson. On Jan. 11, Tillerson said China should not be allowed access to islands it has built in the contested South China Sea.
“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,” he said.
China responded on Tuesday, saying the United Sates was not a party to dispute in the South China Sea.
“We urge the United States to respect the facts, speak and act cautiously to avoid harming the peace and stability of the South China Sea,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular news briefing in Beijing.
Tillerson’s remarks at his Senate confirmation hearing prompted Chinese state media to say at the time that the United States would need to “wage war” to bar China’s access to the islands where it has built military-length air strips and installed weapons systems.
Tillerson was asked at the hearing whether he supported a more aggressive posture toward China and said: “We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.”
RISK OF DANGEROUS ESCALATION
Military experts said that while the U.S. Navy has extensive capabilities in Asia to stage blockading operations with ships, submarines and planes, any such move against China’s growing naval fleets would risk a dangerous escalation.
Aides have said that Trump plans a major naval build-up in East Asia to counter China’s rise.
Full article: Trump White House vows to stop China taking South China Sea islands (Reuters)