Rex Tillerson Wants to Deny China Access to Islands, Reefs in the South China Sea
Incoming US president Donald Trump's pick for the position of secretary of state on Wednesday told the confirmation committee hearing that Washington should deny China access to the artificial islands, reefs, and shoals after the latter has built in the disputed South China Sea.
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Rex Tillerson told the confirmation hearing before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee that China's building of islands and the deployment of military weapons and equipment to the disputed territories were "illegal" and should be halted immediately.
In statements that are expected to infuriate Beijing, Tillerson said that the US should take more aggressive military posturing in the strategic waterway through which $5 trillion worth of ship-borne trade passes annually.
"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 pointed out during the confirmation hearing.
Although Tillerson pushed for additional US troops to patrol the disputed sea, he, however, did not elaborate on how Washington could prevent Beijing from controlling the islands and reefs it had built in the region, which are equipped with airstrips and high-tech military weapons.
The former Exxon Mobil Corp. chairman expressed worry over China's activities in the South China Sea region saying that the "entire global economy" remains at risk if Beijing would have the power to dictate access to the resource-rich waterway.
Military Strategic Waterway
The South China Sea, a major military strategic waterway and a very important trade route, is believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits.
Aside from China, several Southeast Asian nations such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan, and Malaysia have overlapping claims to the region.
The secretary of state nominee blamed US authorities for their "inadequate response" to the South China Sea situation saying Chinese activities in the region could have been prevented if Washington made the necessary moves quickly.
"The way we've got to deal with this is we've got to show back up in the region with our traditional allies in Southeast Asia," he said.
US naval forces have been conducting air and sea patrols in the disputed region invoking the freedom of navigation principle under the Obama administration angering Beijing.
Naval forces from Japan and Australia have joined the US patrols in the disputed waters prompting Beijing to deploy more arms including a missile system to its controlled territories.