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‘No access’

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China should be barred from disputed islands – Tillerson.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – US President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of state set a course for a potentially serious confrontation with Beijing on Wednesday, saying China should be denied access to islands it has built in the contested South China Sea.

In comments expected to enrage Beijing, Rex Tillerson told his confirmation hearing before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee that China’s building of islands and putting military assets on those islands was “akin to Russia’s taking Crimea” from Ukraine.

Asked whether he supported a more aggressive posture toward China, he said: “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.”

The former Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N) chairman and chief executive did not elaborate on what might be done to deny China access to the islands it has built up from South China Sea reefs, equipped with military-length airstrips and fortified with weapons.

Trump’s transition team did not immediately respond to a request for specifics on how China might be blocked from the artificial islands.

China claims most of the energy-rich waters through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year.

Neighbors Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.

Tillerson also said Washington needed to reaffirm its commitment to Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province, but stopped short of Trump’s questioning of Washington’s long-standing policy on the issue.

The United States switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979, acknowledging that China takes the position that there is “one China” and Taiwan is part of it. But the United States is also Taiwan’s biggest ally and arms supplier.

“I don’t know of any plans to alter the ‘one China’ position,” Tillerson said.

Tillerson said he considered China’s South China Sea activity “extremely worrisome” and that it would be a threat to the “entire global economy” if Beijing were able to dictate access to the waterway.

He blamed the current situation on what he termed an inadequate US response. “The failure of a response has allowed them just to keep pushing the envelope on this,” Tillerson said.

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