WASHINGTON/BEIJING: In a stern warning to China, the US has vowed to “protect its interests” in the disputed South China Sea and defend international territories from being taken over by “one country”, evoking an angry response from Beijing which claimed “indisputable sovereignty” over the region.
“I think areas in the South China Sea that are part of international waters and international activities… I think the US is going to make sure that we protect our interests there,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters at his first news conference.
“So it’s a question of if those islands are in fact in international waters and not part of China proper, then yes, we’re gonna make sure that we defend international territories from being taken over by one country,” Spicer said.
He was responding to a question related to a recent statement made by Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson that US would deny China access to these islands as they are in international waters.
China in a strongly worded statement had warned US of a war if it is denied the access.
China has become more assertive over the South China Sea after an international tribunal struck down its claim over almost all of the area.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have counter claims over the South China Sea.
Reacting to Spicer’s remarks, China on Tuesday warned the US that it would not back down over its claims in the South China Sea. “China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing, adding that the country is “firm in safeguarding our rights and interests.”
“The US is not a party to the South China Sea issue,” she asserted.