Earlier this week, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced a bill in the Senate Foreign Relations committee that proposes punitive sanctions against China over its activities in maritime disputes in the East and South China Seas. The bill, called the “South China Sea and East China Sea Sanctions Act of 2016” (PDF), proffers a plan to sanction Chinese individuals and entities “that participate in Beijing’s illegitimate operations in the South China Sea and East China Sea,” according to a release by Rubio’s office.
“China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea are illegitimate and threaten the region’s security and American commerce, with reverberations that can be felt here at home, including Florida’s ports and throughout our state’s shipping and cargo economy,” Rubio noted. “The security of our allies in the region and our own economic livelihoods cannot be endangered by Beijing’s ongoing, flagrant violations of international norms in its pursuit of dominance in the South China Sea and East China Sea.”
The bill would represent an ambitious change in U.S. policy. If it becomes law, it would require the U.S. president to execute a range of punitive sanctions against Chinese individuals and entities for activities in the South China Sea and in turn sanction third-party financial institutions that interact with those entities knowingly. Rubio’s proposals also contain important changes to U.S. policy, such as restricting foreign aid to states that may side with China’s position on disputes in the East and South China Seas and, more importantly, shifting the long-standing U.S. position on not taking sides in questions of territorial sovereignty in maritime disputes (with some exceptions).