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Tillerson: China Should Be Barred from South China Sea Islands


Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 11, 2017, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

United States President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for secretary of state has suggested a U.S. policy that could create serious disagreement with China.

Rex Tillerson said China should be barred from the islands it has built in the South China Sea.

Tillerson is former chairman of the oil company ExxonMobil. He spoke to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday during his confirmation hearing.

“China’s island building in the South China Sea is an illegal taking of disputed areas without regard for international norms.”

Tillerson told the committee that China’s island building -- and its efforts to place military equipment on those islands -- was similar “to Russia’s taking Crimea” from Ukraine.

He added: “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” permitted.

China claims most of the waters of the South China Sea. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam also have claims. So does the government in Taiwan.

The South China Sea is considered to be rich in natural resources, including oil. It is also an important shipping passage, with an estimated $5 trillion in trade passing through its waters.

At the hearing, Tillerson restated U.S. defense guarantees to Taiwan. But he said he knew of no plan to change the government’s 'One China' policy.

In Beijing Thursday, reporters repeatedly asked a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman about Tillerson’s comments.

Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said he could not make any suppositions about what Tillerson meant.

He said he would not answer theoretical questions. However, he did say that China’s right to carry out what he called normal activities in its sovereign territory in the South China Sea is indisputable.

“We hope the countries outside the region can respect this consensus that is in line with the common interests of regional countries and the world,” Lu said.

He added that the situation in the South China Sea has calmed down, and that relations with the U.S. are based on non-conflict and what he called win-win cooperation.

Ankit Panda is with the publication The Diplomat. He told VOA reporter Victor Beattie that Tillerson’s comments are a sharp change from past U.S. policy.

He said some people have expressed opinions about changing U.S. policy in the area.

“Even some commentators and senators, in particular Marco Rubio, who are more hawkish on the issue of the South China Sea, have proposed departures from U.S. policy, including specifically not recognizing Chinese sovereignty, but recognizing the sovereignty of other states.”

But, Panda says the nominee’s proposal goes beyond that.

“Tillerson’s idea, however, goes a lot further here. I think there is a really possibility that this could be, if implemented, a spark to a broader skirmish with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army's Navy.”

During his presidency, Barack Obama increased [the] U.S. military’s presence in East Asia as part of his “pivot” to Asia. President-elect Trump has called for an increased naval presence in the area.

I’m Dorothy Gundy.

Reuters news agency reported this story. George Grow adapted the report for VOA Learning English. Additional information came from VOA’s Victor Beattie and VOANews.com. Mario Ritter was the editor.

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Words in This Story

norms – n. accepted or correct behavior

sovereignadj. coming before all others in importance

consensusn. being of one opinion about something

hawkishadj. of or related to someone who attempts to incite conflict

departure – n. the act of leaving a place

spark – n. a small, hot particle with the ability to cause a fire

skirmish n. a clash

pivot – n. a physical movement toward something

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