China has warned the United States it would not retreat from claims that it controls the South China Sea.
"China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters at a Tuesday news briefing in Beijing. "The United States is not a party to the South China Sea issue," Chunying added.
Her remarks came in response to White House spokesman Sean Spicer's comments Monday that the U.S. would "defend international territories," including the South China Sea. Spicer also said the U.S. will prevent China from "taking over" the islands and reefs in the sea.
President Donald Trump's nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, said last week that China's access to the islands might be blocked, raising the possibility of a military confrontation.
China's development of artificial islands in the South China Sea has fueled tensions in the area. Regional countries fear that China, which has built airfields and placed weapons systems on man-made islands, will extend its military reach and potentially try to restrict navigation.
China claims most of the South China Sea, while Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei claim areas with strategic sea lanes and rich fishing grounds along with oil and gas deposits.