Hong Kong, Jan 12: President-elect Dold Trump’s pick for Secretary of State has set the stage for a potential showdown with Chi over the South Chi Sea, saying that Chi should be denied access to the artificial islands it has built in the disputed waters. Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of oil giant ExxonMobil, told his confirmation hearing on Wednesday that Chi’s activity in the waters, which see $5 trillion in ship borne trade a year, was “extremely worrisome,” CNN reported.
Chi responded saying that countries in the region have come to consensus which the countries outside the region should respect.
The comments during his day-long testimony before the Sete Foreign Affairs Committee look set to inflame tensions with Chi, which claims much of the South Chi Sea as an integral part of its territory. He also compared Chi’s territorial claims to Russia’s military intervention and the annexing of Crimea in 2014.
“Building islands and then putting military assets on those islands is akin to Russia’s taking of Crimea. It’s taking of territory that others lay claim to,” Tillerson said.
“We’re going to have to send Chi a clear sigl that first, the island-building stops, and second, your access to those islands also not going to be allowed.”
Tillerson added that the Obama administration had neglected to tackle the problem, saying the “failure of a response has allowed them to just keep pushing the envelope on this”.
Alysts said Tillerson’s testimony, combined with his future boss’s earlier pronouncements, siglled that a Trump administration is poised to take a much tougher stance on Chi.
Since winning the presidential election, Trump has lashed out at Chi on Twitter, made clear he is serious about wringing a new trade deal from Beijing, and upended US policy toward Taiwan — an issue of deep sensitivity for Chi.
In response to Tillerson’s remarks, Chi’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Lu Kang appeared to say Thursday that the US should stay out of the dispute. He said Chi and other claimants had returned to a “dual track” approach to try and “resolve the issue peacefully”, and that the situation in the South Chi Sea has “cooled down.” Lu was referring to the Philippines, which mellowed down after challenging Chi’s claims over the South Chi Sea in an UN-appointed court. The ruling was delivered in favour of Manila in 2016.
The new Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has moved closer to Beijing, and threatened America with spping military ties. The Philippines and the US are long-time ally.
“We hope countries outside the region will respect this consensus that is in the interest of the region and the world.” Under Obama, the US has repeatedly called for freedom of vigation in the South Chi Sea and sailed and flown its assets near the islands Chi controls — drawing repeated warnings from Chi. Chi has reclaimed more than 3,000 acres of land in the Spratly Islands since 2014, turning reefs and sandbars into islands equipped with airfields, ports and weapons. (IANS)