South China Sea: Tillerson Throws a Rhetorical Bomb

The News Lens
Date: 2017/01/14
By: Sam Roggeveen

Even if Tillerson and the Trump team walk back these comments in coming days, they will no doubt be remembered in Beijing.

U.S. Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson has made some potentially explosive remarks about the South China Sea at his Congressional confirmation hearing:

“In comments expected to enrage Beijing, Rex Tillerson told his confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee that China’s building of islands and putting military assets on those islands was “akin to Russia’s taking Crimea” from Ukraine. Asked whether he supported a more aggressive posture toward China, he 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.”

The normally restrained Reuters said Tillerson had “set a course for a potentially serious confrontation with Beijing.” Reuters is not exaggerating. Short of a military blockade, it’s hard to see how the U.S. can stop Chinese island-building and deny Beijing access to the islands it has already built. I see China observer Patrick Chovanec is already saying Tillerson misspoke, while my colleague Euan Graham suggests the comments may have been a “trial balloon.” Ankit Panda’s piece for The Diplomat explains just why these comments potentially represent such a big departure from settled U.S. policy and even from Donald Trump’s recent statements.    [FULL  STORY]

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