China’s state media rebuffed a suggestion by President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of state that Beijing must be denied access to reclaimed reefs in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.
“Unless Washington plans to wage a
Should the former Exxon Mobil Corp. chief executive’s remarks reflect future U.S. policy, it would represent a fundamental shift toward a more confrontational response to Beijing’s claims to more than 80 percent of the South China Sea. In recent years, China has reclaimed thousands of acres of land and shooed away boats from other claimant states like the Philippines and Vietnam.
The U.S. has followed a long-held policy of not taking a position on the claims of any countries in the South China Sea while defending the freedom of navigation for vessels from all nations.
Tillerson didn’t say how the U.S. would stop China from building on the features, prevent it from accessing them or how it would treat other countries trying to access their land features in the waters. That raised speculation that he had spoken out of turn and that his comments didn’t reflect a fully evolved policy position of the incoming Trump administration.
Trump’s nominee for defense secretary, retired General James Mattis, bolstered that interpretation at his own Senate hearing Thursday, in which he said that the State, Treasury and Defense departments should coordinate their South China Sea policies. “We’re going to have to integrate this, so that we’re not dealing with an incomplete or incoherent strategy,” Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The response to Tillerson’s comments by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs was relatively mild. “Like the U.S., China has the right within its own territory to carry out normal activities,” ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Thursday.
Even China’s state media gave Tillerson the benefit of the doubt. “It remains to be seen to what extent his views against China will translate into U.S. foreign policies,” China Daily wrote. “His remarks at the Wednesday hearing, sensational as they were, turned out to be of little reference value except for judging his personal orientations.”