For years, China has been enraging its neighbors by building and militarizing artificial islands across disputed waters. Now, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of state says it’s time for the U.S. to draw a hard line.
“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 is not going to be allowed,” said Rex Tillerson before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The man-made islands are being built on reefs across the South China Sea. Beijing lays claim to the territory around these islands; however, they interfere with her neighbors’ 200 mile exclusive economic zones, as defined by UNESCO. Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei all have competing claims on the South China Sea.
Back in the U.S., Tillerson is alluding to taking President Barrack Obama’s stance in the issue a step further. For years, the sitting administration has vehemently spoken out against China’s island building and routinely sent NAVY ships into contested waters to defend freedom of navigation. Obama has also strengthened ties with nations in Southeast Asia challenging China’s territorial claims. In recent years, American ships have had some close encounters with the Chinese military in the South China Sea.
Trump’s nominee is also calling to extend the scope to the East China Sea, where China has enacted a special air zone above Japanese islands.
“They are taking territory or control or declaring control of territories that are not rightfully China’s,” Tillerson said.
China has pushed forward with island building and establishing what it calls necessary military facilities for defensive purposes. Late last year, a think-tank published satellite images of what it believed to be military installations on some of these islands.
China maintains its acts are legal even though an international tribunal ruled against its territorial claims in a case brought by The Philippines. Beijing said it will not respect the ruling
Responding to Tillerson’s comments, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said China had the right to conduct “normal activities” in its own territory.