"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," said Tillerson during his confirmation hearings in the US Senate on 11 January.
Similarly, Bannon has even gone to the extent of forecasting that a war may happen in the medium to long term.
"We're going to war in the South China Sea in five to 10 years, aren't we? There's no doubt about that. They're taking their sandbars and making basically stationary aircraft carriers and putting missiles on those," Bannon, who is part of the core group advising President Trump, said last March.
The US reaction is a major policy shift vis-à-vis the South China Sea dispute although not surprising under the Republican Presidency of Trump, who during his campaign promised a more assertive foreign policy than his predecessor Barack Obama, especially when it will involve reining in Chinese ambitions.
But, all observers of the dispute are not hawkish in their stance and instead suggest a negotiated settlement. A major rationale for that has come in the wake of the international tribunal's decision against China, which has made Beijing to mull on its public posture.
"China's claims on islands, rocks and reefs located within the Nine Dash line have been rejected by the Tribunal held under UNCLOS when the Philippines referred the matter for adjudication. China did not make its own submission and has maintained all along that it would not accept the Tribunal's decision. In spite of its long-held position it was taken aback by the unambiguous and total rejection of its claims to the islands. While public posturing remains the same China appears to be doing some rethinking; possibly on areas where compromise would be possible," Vinod Saighal, a strategic expert and retired Major General from the Indian Army, told Sputnik.
He too, however, maintains that "the situation could turn critical" and "there is no way that either of the super powers (China is fast becoming one) could take the next escalatory steps. It is time to step back." And this where, "sane voices must come together to ward it off", he adds.