A day after White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer vowed that the United States would stand up to China's military expansion in the South China Sea, officials here are firing back.
"There might be a difference" of opinion regarding who has sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea, "but that's not for the United States" to get involved in, Lu Kang, a senior official with the Chinese foreign ministry, told NBC News in an exclusive interview on Tuesday.
In other words, he was suggesting the U.S. should butt out of China's relationship with its neighbors.
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But the new Trump administration has made it clear it has no intention of doing so.
Rex Tillerson, Trump's pick for secretary of state who is widely expected to receive full Senate backing, said during his confirmation hearing that the U.S. would block China's access to the disputed Asian islands.
"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 allowed," Tillerson said.
Chinese newspapers responded furiously.
"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," wrote the state-run Global Times.