Setting a hawkish tone in testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations committee, nominee for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, laid out calls for the US to take aggressive action, arguing that the US ought to deny China access to the islands that China has built.
US officials have been railing against China for building islands in the South China Sea for years, arguing that such construction does not increase their maritime territorial claims. This is true, but there is no strict ban on building islands, despite US “outrage” at them doing so.
Tillerson took the claims much farther, arguing that building islands was “akin to Russia taking Crimea” and that the US needed to take a more aggressive position, to “send China a clear signal” that they not only can’t build more islands, but that they also won’t be allowed access to the islands they’ve already built.
While Tillerson’s comments set the stage for a major confrontation with China in the South China Sea, he did not indicate how China might even theoretically be blocked from accessing the islands that they built, something which would appear impossible short of open warfare.