The administration of new US President Donald Trump has stepped up war of words with China over the South China Sea and Beijing’s trade policies, drawing a rocky future for Sino-American ties.
In his first daily briefing on Monday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that Washington was going to stop Beijing’s “island building” in the South China Sea.
The US has long accused China of undertaking a land reclamation program in the disputed waters through making artificial islands.
"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.
“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 added.
A similar statement was previously made by Trump’s designated Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who said during his Senate confirmation hearing on January 11 that Beijing should not be given access to the islands.
Asked whether Trump agreed with the ExxonMobil CEO, Spicer asserted that Washington “is going to make sure that we protect our interests there.”
The comments prompted a harsh response from the Chinese media, which claimed that Washington should “wage war” if it wishes to cut Beijing’s access to its islands.
Spicer did not say how the Trump administration was going to enforce that policy or whether military action was an option.
“I think, as we develop further, we’ll have more information on it,” he said.
Trump has accused China of building a “massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea,” a major gateway for trillions of dollars in maritime trade over most of which Beijing claims sovereignty.
The Republican president has also blasted Beijing’s trade policies with the US, claiming that China outs heavy taxes on American goods and devalues its currency to make more profit.
Spicer said on Monday that Trump was aware of the US businesses’ desire to enter China and would address concerns in that regard.
“In many cases, it's not a two-way street,” he added.
Trump has already angered Beijing by questioning the 'One China' policy and contacting Taiwanese leaders, distancing himself from the politically correct policies of his predecessor Barack Obama.
The 'One China' policy refers to the policy or the diplomatic acknowledgement that there is only one state called China, despite the existence of two governments – one in China and another in the island of Taiwan.
Under the policy, the United States recognizes and has formal ties with the government in Beijing rather than Taiwan. China has considered Taiwan a breakaway province since a government was established there in 1949. Beijing believes the island will be reunified with the mainland one day.