Did Rex Tillerson Call for A Blockade of Chinese Islets in the South China Sea?

It seems the domestic political situation in China would force them to take action against any blockade of their artificial islands in the South China Sea.  China’s advanced ballistic missile capability is how they would likely respond.  Before any blockade is called for I hope people fully understand the risks:

Rex Tillerson

Rex Tillerson, the former Exxon chief, didn’t get where he is by being nice to China. When Beijing tried to force his company to abandon a gas exploration project in the waters off Vietnam in 2008, ExxonMobil showed it the finger. BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and several others caved to Chinese pressure. ExxonMobil is still there, drilling on a Vietnamese license in waters also claimed by China.

Is Tillerson about to do the same on behalf of the United States? On Wednesday, the secretary of state-designate seemed ready to give China the finger again. He called on the incoming Trump administration to deny China access to the seven artificial island bases it has built in the southern part of the South China Sea.

In response to a question about whether he would support a more aggressive posture in the South China Sea, he told his Senate confirmation hearing, “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.” The jaws of the Asia policy-watching community hit the floor.  [Foreign Policy]

You can read the rest at the link, but the author thinks Tillerson may have misspoke and meant blockading any action by the Chinese to build a base on the Scarborough Shoal which would be less dangerous, but still quite a risky strategy to implement if China is committed to forcing the issue.  It seems it would be a tough sell to the American people to risk war with China over the Scarborough Shoal.

The other wild card in all of this is what if President Duerte in the Philippines cuts a deal with China to let them build on the shoal which is claimed by the Philippines?



I am a US military veteran that has served all over the world to include in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Korea. I have been blogging about Korea, Northeast Asia, and the US military for over 10 years.


  1. I’d be willing to bet Trump and Tillerson are aware of China’s precarious financial situation and want to make them so uncomfortable the PRC backs it down a little. I’d also be willing to bet they know exactly what buttons to press. Unlike the SCOAMF and his entourage leaving Friday, those fellows know how to negotiate international deals.

    Who knows? Trump might get China to demilitarize the islands and build Trump hotels?

  2. I think Tillerson misspoke and not intentionally mean to say that. There is no way will attempt to interdict Chinese air and naval traffic to the islands with a blockade. There is also no way we would mine the harbors or crater the runways. The most charitable interpretation of Tillerson’s remarks about denying access would be that the US would field an A2AD capability. Again, I think Tillerson misspoke.

    As for a deal between China and the Phillipines, Duerte would have to formally renounce the claim to China – which I am sure would hurt him politically at home.

  3. “I hope people fully understand the risks”

    That should be the caution for so much of what is being said and done by this incoming administration.

  4. The level of ignorace in the American public… and pretend (and actual) ignorance in the media is astounding.

    Trump’s established negotiation tactic is to hit hard with extreme absolutes… so any backing down is seen by a major victory by the other side… even when the deal has shifted far to Trump’s favor.

    The Trump administration will be pestered by the whining of the ignorant claiming that his extreme demands are dangerous and his small concessions are major losses.

    To evoke Godwin’s rule of Hitler analogies, one of the few valid comparisons of Trump and Hitler is that they both clearly published their honest thinking years before acting.

    So before clutching your pearls, try clutching a book… maybe start with Art of the Deal.

  5. You would expect ROKDroppers, at least those who have been to Namdaemun or Dongdaemun to understand the rules of haggling at least as well as me… No one leads with their final price…

    I’m rather aghast at the ignorance displayed by some of our fellow travelers who still don’t understand a guy who got the Teamsters to deliver concrete, building materials, and other goods in NY and NJ knows how to make a deal with a tough audience…

    And the Chinese will play along because they’ll find the sweet spot that makes both sides feel like winners.

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