Senators call on ASEAN and China to maintain peace in the South China Sea

Posted on July 26, 2012


Now that China has announced it intends to build a military garrison on disputed islands in the South China Sea, raising fears about the outbreak of conflict in the contested maritime region, several top U.S. senators are urging China and Southeast Asian countries to return to the negotiating table and solve their disputes peacefully.

Sens. John Kerry (D-MA), Richard Lugar (R-IN), John McCain (R-AZ), Jim Webb (D-VA), James Inhofe (R-OK), and Joe Lieberman (I-CT), introduced a resolution this week to urge China and ASEAN to complete work on a code of conduct for settling disputes in the South China Sea and other maritime domains before tensions rise any further.

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The resolution “strongly urges that, pending adoption of a code of conduct, all parties, consistent with commitments under the declaration of conduct, ‘exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and stability, including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals and other features and to handle their differences in a constructive manner.'”

The Obama administration has been working quietly but in a determined fashion to press Southeast Asian countries to settle their internal disputes and come up with a unified negotiating position for how to complete a code of conduct for settling maritime disputes, as all of the countries of the region agreed to do in 2002.

“We have seen worrisome instances of economic coercion and the problematic use of military and government vessels in connection with disputes among fisherman. So we look to ASEAN and China to make meaningful progress toward finalizing a code of conduct for the South China Sea that is based on international law and agreements,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said July 12 in Cambodia when attending the ASEAN Regional Forum. “As I told my colleagues, this will take leadership, and ASEAN is at its best when it meets its own goals and standards and is able to speak with one voice on issues facing the region.”

The senators’ resolution supports that process but also reaffirms the U.S. commitment to assist ASEAN countries in remaining strong and independent and pledges to deepen the U.S. partnership with ASEAN nations. The resolution also “supports enhanced operations by the United States armed forces in the Western Pacific, including in the South China Sea, including in partnership with the armed forces of others countries in the region, in support of freedom of navigation, the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, including the peaceful resolution of issues of sovereignty, and unimpeded lawful commerce.”

In a statement given to The Cable, Kerry said that ASEAN’s failure to agree on a joint statement regarding the code of conduct at the Cambodia summit added to the rising tensions between China and its neighbors over the issues and convinced senators it was time to weigh in.

“These disputes are real and they’re getting more serious. I’d think the least the Senate can do is to go on the record clearly and unequivocally in favor of ASEAN efforts to develop a code of conduct in the South China Sea,” Kerry said.

“There should be no doubt that the United States is committed to an enduring presence and deepening partnerships in the region. We have a clear interest in safe and lawful behavior by everyone operating in Asia’s maritime commons. We have a huge interest also in the peaceful resolution of all the issues in the South China Sea, consistent with international law and through a multilateral diplomatic process,” Kerry continued. “We’ve got big worries about freedom of navigation and free commerce. Those are principles all states in the region should be able to support, and this resolution makes clear that the Senate’s watching and we’re focused appropriately.”

Foreign Policy

US Senator slams Beijing over its South China Sea policy

WASHINGTON: China’s recent actions to “unilaterally” assert control of disputed territories in the South China Sea may be a violation of international law, a US Senator has said, urging the State Department to clarify the situation with Beijing and report back to the Congress.

“With the resurgence of a certain faction of the Chinese tied to their military, Beijing has become more and more aggressive,” said Senator Jim Webb in his speech on the Senate floor yesterday.

“On June 21, China’s State Council approved establishment of what they call the Sansha City prefectural zone. This is literally the unilateral creation from nowhere of a governmental body in an area that is claimed also by Vietnam. This city they are creating will administer more than 200 islets, sand banks, and reefs covering two million square kilometres of water,” Webb said.

He also accused China of “populating” and “garrisoning” an island which is in “contest” in terms of sovereignty.

Webb, who was the original sponsor of a resolution approved by the Senate in June 2011 to resolve the dispute, accused China of “refusing” to resolve these issues in a multilateral forum.

He also deplored the use of force by China in the area and called for a peaceful, multilateral resolution to maritime territorial disputes in South East Asia.

“They claim that these issues will only be resolved bilaterally, one nation to another. Why? Because they can dominate any nation in this region. This is a violation, I think quite arguably, of international law,” Webb said, holding China’s stand “contrary” to its own statements about its willingness to work with ASEAN for developing some sort of Code of Conduct.

“This is very troubling. I would urge the State Department to clarify this situation with China, and also with our body immediately,” Webb demanded.

A day earlier, Senator John McCain had termed the Chinese decision to deploy troops to islands in the South China Sea as “unnecessarily provocative.”

China’s stand, he said, reinforced “increasing concerns” among many Asian countries regarding it’s “expansive” territorial claims which have “no basis” in international law.

Economic Times