"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.”
-- Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, Senate confirmation hearing.
Rex Tillerson, the former Exxon chief and President Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, doesn’t seemed prepared for this job.
For sure, China’s claims to the South China Sea are audacious and worrisome. It appears to be turning its artificial islands into military bases, a clear threat to the region. But how do you resolve it?
Tillerson is suggesting confrontation. To underscore a key point: “your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed," he said.
How do you stop China’s access to the islands? Through a blockade of U.S. warships? And how might China respond?
The consequences of such a policy are unimaginable. An armed conflict over China’s South China Sea policy is not the way to resolve this matter.
A China policy built on escalating tensions will end badly for all sides. And let’s not forget the other impacts. The global economy will crash. There will be supply shortages in the U.S. because of trade disruptions with China. The scenarios are too painful to think about.
Guam will feel this tension. If the U.S. starts escalating tensions, it seems probable that Guam will see increases in the military presence and economic disruption as well, especially if it impacts tourism.
The oversize military's presence on the island has, at least since the Vietnam-era, been relatively benign. Guam has never had a direct threat since World War II. All that changes if the Trump administration starts searching for confrontation.
This is not a healthy development for Guam. If the U.S. starts increasing the military presence on the island as part of a saber-rattling strategy with China, island residents will face stress and worry. And for what?