Donald Trump’s new administration vowed on Monday that the United States will prevent China from taking over territory in international waters in the South China Sea.
“The US is going to make sure that we protect our interests there,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said at a media briefing, Reuters reports.
He made the remarks when asked if President Trump agreed with comments made earlier by his Secretary of State nominee, Rex Tillerson, that China should not be allowed access to islands it has built in the contested South China Sea.
“It’s a question of if those islands are in fact in international waters and not part of China proper, then yeah, we’re going to make sure that we defend international territories from being taken over by one country,” Spicer said.
The comments from the White House spokesman signaled a sharp departure from years of cautious US handling of China’s assertive pursuit of territory claims in Asia, Reuters noted.
Tillerson, at his Senate confirmation hearing on Jan. 11, said: “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.”
He did not elaborate on what might be done to deny China access to the islands.
But analysts said his comments, like those of Spicer, suggested the possibility of US military action, or even a naval blockade, that would risk armed confrontation with China.
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