Chinese state media reacted angrily to US Secretary of State designate Rex Tillerson's statement that China should be denied access to the South China Sea islands it controls.
Global Times, the Chinese communist party mouthpiece, said if Tillerson's remarks shape up the incoming administration's China policy, the two sides should rather get ready for a war.
"Tillerson's statements regarding the islands in the South China Sea are far from professional. If Trump's diplomatic team shapes future Sino-US ties as it is doing now, the two sides had better prepare for a military clash," Global Times said.
The daily categorically said forcing China's retreat from the South China Sea will be impossible. It poked fun at Tillerson's limited political experience, saying: "Probably he just has oil prices and currency rates in his mind as former ExxonMobil CEO."
Earlier this week, Tillerson dragged the South China Sea conflict to uncharted territory by saying China's access to the disputed waters "is not going to be allowed." Tillerson's comments marked a drastic move away from the existing US policy on the sea conflict and even went beyond the acerbic anti-China stance of president elect Donald Trump.
The US, which has no territorial claims in the South China Sea, has said weapons deployment in South China Sea threatens free passage in an area through which ship-borne trade worth $5 trillion passes every year. The US sees China's land reclamation near the island chains of Paracel and Spratlys and the building of airstrips as attempts to militarize the region.
Global Times said the US role in the South China Sea dispute is limited. It cited China's warming or relations with its neighbors who have overlapping claims in the waters.
"South China Sea countries will accelerate their negotiations on a Code of Conduct. They have the ability to solve divergences by themselves without US interference. Just as the Philippines and Vietnam are trying to warm their ties with China, Tillerson's words cannot be more irritating," it said.
The editorial warned the US that it does not have any absolute power to dominate the South China Sea and that Tillerson should rethink if he considers pushing back "a big nuclear power to withdraw from its own territories."
"China has enough determination and strength to make sure that his rabble rousing will not succeed. Unless Washington plans to wage a large-scale war in the South China Sea, any other approaches to prevent Chinese access to the islands will be foolish."