"It's a question of if those islands are in fact in worldwide waters and not part of China proper, then yeah, we're going to make sure that we defend global territories from being taken over by one country", said Spicer referring to China's unlawfully claimed and militarized islands in the South China Sea, where an estimated $5 trillion in shipping passes annually.
During the campaign season, Trump often pointed toward China's island-building as evidence that the USA was "losing" to China, a predicament which he vowed to reverse.
The White House said Monday that Donald Trump's administration will not allow China to claim territory located in worldwide waters in the South China Sea, but appeared to back off from Rex Tillerson's recommendation that the USA block China's access to the artificial islands in the water. In a new development, China has issued a warning to the United States, asking the country to stay away from South China Sea. "China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters".
The comments from the White House spokesman signaled a sharp departure from years of cautious United States handling of China's assertive pursuit of territory claims in Asia, Reuters noted.
The Trump administration's pledge to defend its interests in the region sparked a stinging reaction in Chinese state media, which warned that such actions would require Washington to "wage war." Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to the waters.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying made the remarks at a daily briefing, when commenting on White House spokesperson Sean Spicer's comments on Monday concerning the South China Sea issue. The only conceivable way to do so would seem to be militarily, in a full-scale war with China.
Beijing's most recent round of military exercises in the disputed South China Sea has also unnerved Beijing's regional neighbors.
Rex Tillerson, the pick of US President Donald Trump for secretary of state, said earlier this month the US would seek to block China's access to man-made islands it had been building in the area, a statement that angered Beijing. Aides have said that Trump plans to initiate a major naval build-up in East Asia to counter China's growing ambitions.