China lays claim to much of the South China Sea, despite competing claims from Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei. In square opposition to its neighbors’ claims, China has added to regional tensions by building artificial islands in the sea, complete with military installations.
It’s far from the first time that Beijing has clashed with the US government when it comes to the disputed waters. In October, a US warship sailed near islands claimed by Beijing, drawing a warning from Chinese warships to leave the area. The Chinese Defense Ministry later called the move “illegal” and “provocative.”
China has so far “shown restraint” when Trump’s cabinet picks have expressed “radical views,” as the president-elect has not yet been sworn in. However, it stressed that the US “should not be misled into thinking that Beijing will be fearful of their threats.”
“If Trump’s diplomatic team shapes future Sino-US ties as it is doing now, the two sides had better prepare for a military clash,” the article reads, adding that Tillerson’s statements are “far from professional.”
The former ExxonMobil CEO’s comments were made during his Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, in which he said that China’s activities in the disputed South China Sea were “extremely worrisome.”
“Building islands and then putting military assets on those islands is akin to Russia’s taking of Crimea. It’s taking of territory that others lay claim to,” Tillerson said, referring to the reunification of Crimea and Russia, which took place following a referendum in 2014.
“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 not going to be allowed.”