There is a potential future conflict between the U.S. and China in the South China Sea.
China has been building several “islands” with military capabilities in areas that are considered “international waters/international trading zones” — and China is claiming they have control over the areas. Several other Asian countries, including Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Brunei say they have claim over parts of the islands and depend on it for fishing, trade, and that they have oil and gas deposits.
Yesterday the White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that if the islands are not a part of China but in international waters, that the U.S. would defend international territories from being taken over by one country and that we would protect our interests there.
Today China responded by saying the U.S. should “back off”’ — because they are not a party to the dispute and that China has sovereignty over parts of the South China Sea. but would protect freedom of navigation and wants to talk directly with other countries to find a peaceful solution — and that the U.S. should respect the facts and speak and act cautiously.
During Sec. of State nominee Rex Tillerson’s senate confirmation hearings, he said the U.S. needed to send China a clear signal that they must stop building the islands and that they should not have access to those islands. At that time, China state-run media responded that the U.S. would have to “start a war” if they wanted to prevent access to the islands/bases.
There are reports that Trump wants to do a major build-up of the navy in East Asia to keep up with China’s influence in the area, which would fit with Trump’s vision to expand the military.
The Trump administration could also take non-military solutions to combat China— such as imposing economic policies that will hurt China if they continue to claim territory.