China’s state media take aim at Tillerson over South China Sea

Chinese state media sharply criticized President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for Secretary of State for his aggressive stance on the South China Sea.

During his confirmation hearing in the Senate on Wednesday, former Exxon Mobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson compared China's controversial island-building in the South China Sea to Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Tillerson said that China's island-building in the South China Sea needed to end and the mainland's access to the area "is not going to be allowed."

State-owned China Daily responded with an editorial on Friday calling the remarks "intimidating, though he stopped short of elaborating how to achieve it."

The editorial noted that the remarks represented Tillerson's personal policy preferences as the nominee said he had yet to have an in-depth foreign policy discussion with Trump.

"Such remarks are not worth taking seriously because they are a mish-mash of naivety, short-sightedness, worn-out prejudices, and unrealistic political fantasies. Should he act on them in the real world, it would be disastrous," the editorial said.

"What he presented was based more on what prejudice and arms-spurred self-righteousness make him believe and hope rather than on real-world realities."

Former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for Secretary of State, testifies during his confirmation hearing before Senate Foreign Relations Committee January 11, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong | Getty Images

China has been building islands atop of shallow reefs in the South China Sea and outfitting them militarily, saying the region was historically its territory, although a panel at the Hague last year ruled against that claim. The area had also been claimed by a half-dozen other nations. The U.S. policy has been that the region is international waters, allowing open access.

Other state-owned media also took issue with Tillerson's remarks.

Chinese state-owned tabloid Global Times on Friday said Tillerson's statements were "the most radical from the U.S. side so far."

"China has enough determination and strength to make sure that his rabble rousing will not succeed. Unless Washington plans to wage a large-scale war in the South China Sea, any other approaches to prevent Chinese access to the islands will be foolish," it said. "If

Trump's diplomatic team shapes future Sino-U.S. ties as it is doing now, the two sides had better prepare for a military clash."

That followed a Global Times editorial on Sunday, which said the mainland would "take revenge" if Trump ended the one-China policy with Taiwan.

—By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter @LeslieShaffer1

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