Construction at Mabini (Johnson) Reef by China, in the disputed Spratly Islands, in the South China Sea.
Construction at Mabini (Johnson) Reef by China, in the disputed Spratly Islands, in the South China Sea. ARMED FORCES OF THE PHILIPPINES

China says US needs to butt out

CHINA has given a very strong warning to the US not to meddle in the South China Sea following the Trump administration's vow to defend "international territories” in the strategic waterway.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer reinforced the recent sharp departure from years of diplomacy in the face of China's aggressive pursuit of territorial claims.

When asked if President Donald Trump agreed with comments by his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, Mr Spicer said, "The US is going to make sure we protect our interests there.”

Mr Tillerson has said China should not be allowed access to islands it has built in the area.

Mr Spicer added: "If those islands are in fact in international waters and not part of China proper, then we're going to make sure that we defend international territories from being taken over by one country.”

South China Sea expert Mira Rapp-Hooper, of the Center for a New American Security in Washington, said threats to bar China's access were "incredible” and had no basis in international law.

"A blockade - which is what would be required to actually bar access - is an act of war,” she said.

China claims most of the South China Sea. Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines and Brunei claim parts that have rich fishing grounds and oil and gas deposits, and command strategic sea lanes.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the US was "not a party to the South China Sea dispute”.

But China was also dedicated to protecting freedom of navigation and wanted talks with nations directly involved to find a peaceful solution, she said.

China's sovereignty over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea was "irrefutable”.

"We urge the United States to respect the facts, speak and act cautiously to avoid harming the peace and stability of the South China Sea,” Ms Hua said.

Military experts have said the US Navy has the capability to blockade with ships, submarines and planes, but such a move would risk a dangerous escalation.