Beijing warns White House to tread carefully after Rex Tillerson likens island-building to Russia’s taking of Crimea. China has warned the US to “speak and act cautiously” after the White House said it would act to foil Chinese attempts to “take over” the South China Sea, amid growing hints that Donald Trump’s administration intends to challenge Beijing over the strategic waterway.
At a press conference in Beijing on Tuesday, the foreign ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, urged Washington to tread carefully “to avoid harming the peace and stability of the South China Sea”.
Hua was responding to comments made by White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, the previous day.
Speaking at a press briefing on Monday, Spicer vowed the US would “make sure that we protect our interests” in the resource-rich trade route, through which $4.5tn (£3.4tn) in trade passes each year.
His comments came less than a fortnight after Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, set the stage for a potentially explosive clash with Beijing by likening its artificial island building campaign in the South China Sea to “Russia’s taking of Crimea”.
Tillerson told his confirmation hearing the White House needed to send China a “clear signal” that such activities had to stop and that its access to such territories was “not going to be allowed”.
“They are taking territory or control or declaring control of territories that are not rightfully China’s,” Tillerson said.