MANILA, Philippines — US senators called on the Trump administration to do more in countering China’s aggressive activities in the disputed South China Sea.
Sens. Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey), Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts), Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) asked US State Secretary Mike Pompeo to prioritize discussions on the South China Sea in the upcoming ASEAN Regional Forum in Thailand this week.
Menendez and Markey are minority members of the US Senate foreign relations committee.
“While the Administration has rightly highlighted China’s militarization of the South China Sea – and we welcome the regular and routine conduct of Freedom of Navigation assertions – we are concerned that much more is needed to counter China’s aggressive activities and impede its drive to operate with impunity in the South China Sea,” the senators said in a letter addressed to Pompeo.
The US senators noted that China has been encroaching in the exclusive economic zones of other claimant states, using militarized artificial islands as “platforms for coercion”, and pressuring the ASEAN to negotiate a “restrictive” Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.
Beijing also continues to ignore the July 2016 of a United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal, which invalidated its historic nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea.
China’s actions in the contested waterway deserves greater attention from the US, along with cooperation with allies and partners, the senators said.
“China’s intimidation, coercion, rejection of peaceful diplomatic arbitration, and threats of the use of force over the past several years represent a serious challenge to those interests,” the letter read.
In line with this, the US lawmakers asked Pompeo to use the upcoming ASEAN meeting in Bangkok to come up with a regional consensus to protect the rights of US allies and partners under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The Trump administration was also asked to form a strategy that would end Chinese infringement of rights of other coastal states and counter its efforts to “undermine” a freed and open Indo-Pacific.
“It is not too late to hold China to account for its behavior, and to deter further Chinese aggression in the maritime domain,” the senators said.
In a tweet early Wednesday, Pompeo said he is looking forward to reaffirming Washington’s commitment to the ASEAN and strengthening bilateral relations in the region as he lands in Thailand for the ASEAN Regional Forum.
Earlier this year, Pompeo assured the Philippines that the US will back its long-time ally in case of any armed attack on Filipino forces in the West Philippine Sea or the South China Sea.
“As the South China Sea is part of the Pacific, any armed attack on Philippine forces, aircraft or public vessels in the South China Sea would trigger mutual defense obligations under Article 4 of our Mutual Defense Treaty,” Pompeo said during his visit to Manila in March.