Fri Jan 13, 2017 10:14AM
Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around a reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. (Via Reuters)
Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around a reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. (Via Reuters)

Chinese media have warned that the belligerent posture by US President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of state vis-à-vis China could lead to a “devastating confrontation” between China and the United States.

Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, said during his confirmation hearing before the US Senate on Wednesday that China must not only stop the construction of artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea but also be banned from them.

Although Tillerson did not explain how the US would be able to ban China from the islands — which have been built on reefs and shoals and been fortified with defensive weapons — his remarks prompted a flurry of strongly-worded reactions on Chinese media.

If Tillerson acted on his threats, Chinese state-owned China Daily said, “it would set a course for devastating confrontation between China and the US.”

Rex Tillerson, US President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of state (photo by AFP)

Another daily, Global Times, said in an editorial that the only recourse the US would hypothetically have would be all-out war.

“Unless Washington plans to wage a large-scale war in the South China Sea, any other approaches to prevent Chinese access to the islands will be foolish,” it said.

That scenario, the daily said, would inevitably necessitate the use of nuclear arms, adding that Tillerson had better “bone up on nuclear power strategies if he wants to force a big nuclear power to withdraw from its own territories.”

Global Times is published under the auspices of People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party.

China claims almost all of the strategic and resource-rich South China Sea, which is also a major sea trade route. The territory is also claimed in part by Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

The US conducts periodic air and naval patrols in the disputed waters and is accused of deliberately raising tensions in a region it does not belong to.

Trump, too, has showed an inclination to irritate China by threatening to impose very high tariffs on goods imported from the Asian economic powerhouse. China is the largest exporter of goods to the US, holding hundreds of billions of US national debt. He has also challenged Chinese sovereignty on Taiwan, a highly sensitive issue for Beijing.