Lawmakers to White House: Get Tough With Beijing Over South China Sea

BY DAN DE LUCE/ APRIL 27, 2016 / April 27, 2016

Dismayed at China’s tactics in the South China Sea, U.S. senators from both parties on Wednesday demanded the White House show more resolve with Beijing and ratchet up U.S. naval patrols near disputed islands in the strategic waterway.

With President Barack Obama due to travel to Vietnam next month, four senators introduced legislation that calls for bolstering security assistance to allies in Southeast Asia and expanding U.S. military operations meant to uphold the right of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

“For too long as China continues its aggressive and expansive policies, the United States has played the role of observer, or perhaps protester, but not yet actor,” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said in a statement announcing the bill.

During the past two years, China has aggressively moved to expand its territorial claims in the South China Sea, a hugely important waterway rich in resources and a highway for trillions of dollars in trade. Chinese tactics have included coercion of other states, such as Vietnam and the Philippines, as well as the installation of advanced military hardware on disputed reefs and atolls hundreds of miles from the Chinese coast.

The Obama administration has consistently called for China to respect international law and forswear coercion, but to little avail. Last fall, Chinese president Xi Jinping promised in a visit to Washington to halt so-called militarization of the region, but instead has only ramped up the dispatch of advanced radars, air defense systems, and even military aircraft to islands claimed by neighboring states.

The broader U.S.-China relationship, which requires cooperation on such issues as the global economy and North Korea, makes it difficult for Washington to push back too hard on Beijing’s moves in the region — but that tread-softly approach is wearing thin with lawmakers.

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Wednesday featuring Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken, some lawmakers blasted the administration’s policies on the South China Sea as weak and lackluster. Read more…

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