Chinese media is warning of ‘war’ over plans for the tense South China Sea proposed by President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of state.
Comparing Chinese construction and militarization of artificial islands in highly-contested waters to “Russia’s taking of the Crimea” during his confirmation hearing Wednesday, former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson said that the U.S. needs “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.”
“They are taking territory or control or declaring control of territories that are not rightfully China’s,” he added.
Tillerson also criticized China for not being a “reliable partner” on eliminating the North Korean nuclear threat.
While China’s official response was restrained, Chinese media was quick to criticize Tillerson’s “far from professional” comments.
The Global Times argued that if Trump and his team shape “future Sino-US ties as [they are] doing now,” the two sides had better prepare for a military clash.
“Unless Washington plans to wage a large-scale war in the South China Sea, any other approaches to prevent Chinese access to the islands will be foolish,” the nationalist Global Times wrote in response.
“The US has no absolute power to dominate the South China Sea,” the paper added, “Tillerson had better bone up on nuclear power strategies if he wants to force a big nuclear power to withdraw from its own territories.”
The China Daily wrote that Tillerson criticized China’s maritime activities “in obvious disregard for the essential truth that all those activities took place well within the country’s persistent, historical territory.”
China’s extensive claims to the South China Sea were discredited last July by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. China rejected the ruling and the authority of the tribunal.
The paper called Tillerson’s views a “mish-mash of naivety, shortsightedness, worn-out prejudices, and unrealistic political fantasies,” adding that were he to “act on them in the real world, it would be disastrous.”
The Obama administration conducted several freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea but stopped short of actually confronting China or attempting to prevent access to its construction projects.
The China Daily warned that if the incoming administration pursues a more confrontational approach, “it would set a course for devastating confrontation between China and the US.”
While Trump’s plans for the South China Sea are unclear, he said Wednesday that China has taken “total” advantage of “us in the South China Sea by building their massive fortress.”
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