After White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer called the sovereignty of the Spratly islands into question, Beijing responded in kind. "It’s a question of if those islands are in fact in international waters and not part of China proper, then yeah, we’re going to make sure that we defend international territories from being taken over by one country," Spicer said on Monday. In what looks like a tit-for-tat game, the Chinese Foreign Ministry responded, saying China’s sovereignty over the Spratly islands was "irrefutable."
"No matter what changes happen in other countries, what they say or what they do, China’s resolve to protect its sovereignty and maritime rights in the South China Sea will not change," Hua added.
On Tuesday, Lu Kang, a senior Chinese Foreign Ministry official, said there “might” be a difference of opinion over who has rights to the islands and waters of the South China Sea, "but that’s not for the United States" to determine alone. Refuting Spicer’s remarks, Lu told NBC News on Tuesday "that’s not international territory, that’s Chinese territory," adding that China has the right to build whatever it wants on what it considers to be its own territory.
On Sunday, Chinese state-media outlet The Global Times stated in an op-ed that military exercises in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait "will become a kind of normal, extremely normal drills."
Calling China’s construction on the Spratly islands "illegal," former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, likely to become the next US Secretary of State following a committee vote of 11-10 in favor of his advancement, will see his vote go to the full Senate. Marco Rubio, a Florida Senator formerly critical of Tillerson’s stance on human rights, has now signaled his support for the ex-business bigwig as, "it would be against our national interest to have this confirmation unnecessarily delayed or embroiled in controversy."
"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 has declared.
US President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized Beijing on trade practices, currency devaluation, and for failing to keep Pyongyang at bay. Trump’s argument generally lines up with a recently surfaced CIA memo on how Washington might approach economic sanctions against North Korea. Specifically, Beijing’s role as an economic lifeline to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea "would strenuously oppose—and assist Pyongyang in evading—an embargo." Trump has scolded Beijing, tweeting that it "won’t help with North Korea," and adding sardonically, "Nice!"