Rex Tillerson compared China’s establishment of outposts on reefs and islands in the South China Sea to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and vowed to take a tough posture on China’s moves there.
Tillerson said China’s efforts to lay claim to the Senkaku or Diaoyu Islands were “illegal actions.”
“The island building in the South China Sea itself in many respects in my view is akin to Russia’s taking of Crimea,” he said, calling it the “taking of territory others have laid claim to.”
He also said that U.S. diplomacy was partly to blame. “China’s activity in this area is extremely worrisome,” he said, adding that the lack of a vigorous response “has allowed them to keep pushing the envelope on this.”
The Obama administration has protested China’s actions in the South China Sea, urging Beijing to abide by an international arbitration process. The Obama administration has sent U.S. military vessels through international waters in the area.
But it has not taken other action.