Is the US planning a large-scale war on China, the state media taunted on Friday after US secretary of state-nominee Rex Tillerson said the new government in Washington should prevent China’s access to islands built by Beijing in the South China Sea.
Speaking during his confirmation hearing before the US Senate foreign relations committee, Tillerson said the new US administration will send a clear signal to China that “first the island buildings stop and second, your access to those islands is also not going to be allowed”.
Tillerson said China's island-building in the South China Sea was similar to “Russia's taking of Crimea”.
China is locked in territorial disputes with several countries in the South China Sea and has controversially dredged the seas to build new islands. Satellite imagery that emerged in recent months has shown that Beijing is also apparently building military facilities on them.
While the government’s official response to Tillerson’s comments was muted, the state media did not mince word in editorials.
“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 SCS, any other approaches to prevent Chinese access to the islands will be foolish,” the nationalistic Global Times newspaper wrote.
“Tillerson's statements regarding islands in the South China Sea are far from professional. 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 added.
State-run China Daily said: “Such remarks are not worth taking seriously because they are a mish-mash of naivety, shortsightedness, worn-out prejudices and unrealistic political fantasies…Should he act on them, would be disastrous.”
The newspaper added: “As many have observed, it would set a course for devastating confrontation between China and the US. After all, how can the US deny China access to its own territories without inviting the latter’s legitimate, defensive responses.”
The official response was more guarded.
“Like the US, the Chinese side has full right to conduct any kind of normal activities on its own territory within its sovereignty. It is above reproach,” said foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang.
Lu’s comments were meant to show that China is trying to look at the positives in Tillerson’s remarks.
“I do agree with Mr Tillerson at one point where he recognised disagreements but also intertwined interests and consensus between China and the US. He said that ‘we need to see the positive dimensions in our relationship with China’, and ‘we should not let disagreements over other issues exclude areas for productive partnership’. I do agree with him on that.”