The United States “better prepare for a military clash” if it blocks China’s access to the South China Sea islands, the state-run Global Times said in an editorial published on Friday.
During his confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Beijing declared “control of territories that are not rightfully China’s.”
He compared its island-building efforts and military deployment to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, reported the Independent.
“You’re going to have 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,” the former ExxonMobil chief executive said.
The Global Times wrote: “The US has no absolute power to dominate the South China Sea. Tillerson had better bone up on nuclear power strategies if he wants to force a big nuclear power to withdraw from its own territories.”
“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,” it continued.
“China has enough determination and strength to make sure that his rabble rousing will not succeed. 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.
“It is hoped that Tillerson will desire a productive partnership with China more and his harsh words are just coaxing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.”
In response to Tillerson’s remarks, China’s foreign ministry emphasized that respect and cooperation between the two countries is important.
Relations between China and the U.S. were based on “non-confrontation, non-conflict, mutual benefit and win-win cooperation,” spokesman Lu Tang Lu said.
About $5 trillion of ship-borne trade passes through the South China Sea each year.
Despite competing sovereignty claims from countries like the Philippines and Vietnam, China has established seven artificial islands on reefs and rocks, equipped with military airstrips and anti-aircraft guns.
Under the Obama administration, air and naval patrols had been conducted in the region, angering Beijing, which recently seized a Navy underwater drone before giving it back days later.
The Global Times followed up the editorial with an opinion piece in the China Daily, heavily criticizing Tillerson and accusing him of “undisguised animosity toward China.”
The state-run paper added: “As many have observed, it would set a course for devastating confrontation between China and the US. After all, how can the U.S. deny China access to its own territories without inviting the latter’s legitimate, defensive responses?”