China has been turning fragile reefs and islets in the South China Sea into artificial islands that host military facilities and declared air defense rights over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, said the United States needs to “send China a clear signal that first, the island-building stops and second your access to those islands is also not going to be allowed.” He made his remarks at a Senate Confirmation Hearing this week.
Tillerson likened Beijing’s actions to a takeover of another country’s territory. “They are taking territory or control or declaring control of territories that are not rightfully China’s,” he said.
China’s state media wasted little time before challenging Tillerson’s remarks saying the United States risks a “large-scale war” with China if his comments ever become official U.S. policy. The state-run China Daily warned that the two countries better “prepare for a military clash” if China is denied access to islands it already controls.
Tillerson did not specify how the U.S. would stop or interrupt China’s military operations on the islands that now contain military-length airstrips and other weapons.