China's official media warned of a "large-scale war" if the US blocks it from accessing the artificial islands China has built in the contested South China Sea, a day after secretary of state nominee said Washington should deny Beijing access to the new islands.
In a scathing editorial titled "Is (Rex) Tillerson's bluster just a bluff for Senate?" state-run Global Times said his comments were aimed to "curry favour from senators and increase his chances of being confirmed by intentionally showing a tough stance toward China".
In testimony before the senate, Tillerson who is nominated by President-elect Donald Trump for the post of secretary of state, likened China's island-building in the South China Sea to "Russia's taking of Crimea".
The new US government would 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 was reported to have said.
"It is not clear which point, among the many he made, he will prioritise. But it is worth looking at his remarks that China should not be allowed access to the islands, since this is the most radical statement from the US side so far" the editorial said. "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.
Another official newspaper, the China Daily said: "It remains a question whether Tillerson, former Exxon Mobil Corp chairman and chief executive, as secretary of state will get through senate scrutiny." "If he is appointed, it remains to be seen to what extent his views against China will translate into US foreign policies. After all, what we heard at Wednesday's confirmation hearing before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee was essentially his personal policy inclinations," it said.
"Not only were his views divergent from, even contrary to, those of Trump on some critical issues. He openly conceded he is yet to have a serious, in-depth discussion with Trump on foreign policy imperatives," it said.
"Such remarks are not worth taking seriously because they are a mish-mash of naivety, shortsightedness, worn-out prejudices, and unrealistic political fantasies. Should he act on them in the real world, it would be disastrous," it said. However, the Chinese foreign ministry in a sedate reaction said that China and the US share a lot of common interests and have a great potential for cooperation.
The Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang reacted guardedly to Tillerson comments as his government awaited Trump to take over the Presidency to have a diplomatic engagement.
Lu said "China and the US share a lot of common interests and shoulder important responsibilities for the maintenance of international peace, security and development as permanent members of the UN Security Council. "China and the US cooperation has brought tremendous benefits to the two countries and the two peoples and Beijing hopes to maintain that momentum," he said.