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China tells Trump to act cautiously on South China Sea issue

Beijing's warning comes after the new US administration vowed to defend its interests in the disputed waters. Chinese state media has stated that any US action in region would require Washington to "wage war."

China on Tuesday urged the new US administration of President Donald Trump to exercise extreme caution over the South China Sea, reiterating its claim to the disputed Spratly Islands.

Beijing's comments come a day after the Trump administration vowed to defend its interests and territories located in international waters, including those in the South China Sea.

"We urge the United States to respect the facts, speak and act cautiously to avoid harming the peace and stability of the South China Sea," Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a news briefing in Beijing. "China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters. The United States is not a party to the South China Sea issue."

US President Donald Trump's press secretary, Sean Spicer, on Monday warned China that "the US is going to make sure we protect our interests" in the South China Sea. "If those islands are, in fact, in international waters and not part of China proper, yeah, we'll make sure we defend international interests from being taken over by one country," he told reporters in Washington DC.

Spicer's comments signal a sharp departure from President Barack Obama's cautious approach to handling China's assertive claim to the disputed territories.

The Trump administration's pledge to defend its interests in the region sparked a stinging reaction in Chinese state media, which warned that such actions would require Washington to "wage war."

China's "Global Times" newspaper, an influential paper known for its hawkish rhetoric, urged China to strengthen its nuclear arsenal to "force the US to respect it."

Risk of escalation

China has reclaimed more than 3,000 acres of land, building military-grade infrastructure on reefs and islets mostly in the Spratly Island chain.

Beijing's most recent round of military exercises in the disputed South China Sea has also unnerved Beijing's regional neighbors. Aside from being energy rich, the disputed waters are also a key shipping channel. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to the waters.

However, reports suggest that Trump plans to build up the US' naval and military presence in the South China Sea, as well as stage a blockading operation to counter China's presence in the region.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suggested last week that the US would harden its stance towards China's actions in the disputed waters and called Beijing's building of bases on the disputed islands illegal.

"We're going to have to send China a clear signal that, first the island building stops, and second, your access to those islands is also not going to be allowed," he said.

Washington-based South China Sea expert Mira Rapp-Hooper described the US' threats to China's access to the South China Sea as "incredible," adding that they have no basis in international law.

"A blockade - which is what would be required to actually bar access - is an act of war," the analyst for the Center for a New American Security said. "The Trump administration has begun to draw red lines in Asia that they will almost certainly not be able to uphold, but they may nonetheless be very destabilizing to the relationship with China, invite crises, and convince the rest of the world that the United States is an unreliable partner."

dm/se (Reuters, AFP)

 

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