The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution (S. Res. 524) last night declaring that China's recent actions to unilaterally assert control of disputed territories in the South China Sea "are contrary to agreed upon principles with regard to resolving disputes and impede a peaceful resolution." Senator Jim Webb, chair of the Foreign Relations East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee, was an original cosponsor of the resolution and led an amendment addressing China's provocative actions. Last week, he urged the U.S. State Department to clarify whether China's actions were a violation of international law.
"China has refused to resolve these issues in a multilateral forum," said Senator Webb, who was the original sponsor of a resolution, unanimously approved by the Senate in June 2011, deploring the use of force by China in the South China Sea and calling for a peaceful, multilateral resolution to maritime territorial disputes in Southeast Asia. "They claim that these issues will only be resolved bilaterally because they can dominate any single nation in this region.
"The United States has a clear strategic interest in facilitating a multilateral approach to resolving these territorial disputes, ensuring open access to international waters and air space, and promoting adherence to international law."
Senator Webb's amendment to the resolution addressed the unilateral actions China has recently taken to establish control over disputed territory. Specifically, his amendment references the July 22 decision of China's Central Military Commission to deploy a garrison of soldiers to guard islands in the South China Sea. In addition, it notes the steps China took to create a prefectural-level city, based on the Paracel Islands, and identify government leaders to assert administrative control over 200 islets, sandbanks, and reefs and 2,000,000 square kilometers of water. The amendment concludes that these steps are contrary to the agreed upon principles for resolving territorial disputes, and impede the peaceful resolution of disputes in the South China Sea. The U.S. State Department echoed Senator Webb's amendment when it stated today that China's actions "run counter to collaborative diplomatic efforts to resolve differences and risk further escalating tensions in the region."
In addition to Senator Webb's language, the resolution reaffirmed U.S. support for the adoption of a binding code of conduct between the member states of ASEAN and China to facilitate peace and stability in the South China Sea; urged all parties to exercise self-restraint in activities that could complicate or escalate disputes; supported a collaborative diplomatic process to resolve the territorial disputes; and noted America's commitment to the nations of Southeast Asia.
Senator Webb has expressed concerns over sovereignty issues in this region for more than 16 years. His first hearing upon assuming chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee was on maritime territorial disputes and sovereignty issues in Asia in July 2009. Senator Webb has worked and traveled throughout East Asia and Southeast Asia for more than four decades--as a Marine Corps Officer, a defense planner, a journalist, a novelist, a senior official in the Department of Defense, Secretary of the Navy, and as a business consultant.
Full Text of S. Res. 524:
Title: Reaffirming the strong support of the United States for the 2002 declaration of conduct of parties in the South China Sea among the member states of ASEAN and the People's Republic of China, and for other purposes.
Whereas the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) plays a key role in strengthening and contributing to peace, stability, and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region;
Whereas the vision of the ASEAN Leaders in their goals set out in the ASEAN Charter to integrate ASEAN economically, politically, and culturally furthers regional peace, stability, and prosperity;
Whereas the United States Government recognizes the importance of a strong, cohesive, and integrated ASEAN as a foundation for effective regional frameworks to promote peace and security and economic growth and to ensure that the Asia-Pacific community develops according to rules and norms agreed upon by all of its members;
Whereas the United States is enhancing political, security and economic cooperation in Southeast Asia through ASEAN, and seeks to continue to enhance its role in partnership with ASEAN and others in the region in addressing transnational issues ranging from climate change to maritime security;
Whereas the United States Government welcomes the development of a peaceful and prosperous China which respects international norms, international laws, international institutions, and international rules, and enhances security and peace, and seeks to advance a `cooperative partnership' between the United States and China;
Whereas ASEAN plays an important role, in partnership with others in the regional and international community, in addressing maritime security issues in the Asia-Pacific region and into the Indian Ocean, including open access to the maritime domain of Asia;
Whereas the South China Sea is a vital part of the maritime domain of Asia, including critical sea lanes of communication and commerce between the Pacific and Indian oceans;
Whereas, in the declaration on the conduct of parties in the South China Sea, the governments of the member states of ASEAN and the Government of the People's Republic of China have affirmed "that the adoption of a code of conduct in the South China Sea would further promote peace and stability in the region" and have agreed to work towards the attainment of a code of conduct;
Whereas, pending the peaceful settlement of territorial and jurisdictional disputes, the member states of ASEAN and the People's Republic of China have committed to "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";
Whereas, pending the peaceful settlement of territorial and jurisdictional disputes, the member states of ASEAN and the People's Republic of China affirmed their commitment "to the freedom of navigation in and overflight of the South China Sea provided for by the universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea";
Whereas, although not a party to these disputes, the United States has national interests in freedom of navigation, the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, and unimpeded lawful commerce;
Whereas the Government of the People's Republic of China has recently taken unilateral steps to declare the Paracel and Spratly Islands, and their adjacent waters to be a prefectural-level city, and has identified government leaders to assert administrative control over 200 islets, sandbanks, and reefs and 2,000,000 square kilometers of water;
Whereas the Central Military Commission in China also announced the deployment of a garrison of soldiers to this area; and
Whereas these steps are contrary to agreed upon principles with regard to resolving disputes and impede a peaceful resolution of the sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That the Senate--
(1) reaffirms the strong support of the United States for the 2002 declaration of conduct of parties in the South China Sea among the member states of ASEAN and the People's Republic of China;
(2) supports the member states of ASEAN, and the Government of the People's Republic of China, as they seek to adopt a legally binding code of conduct of parties in the South China Sea, and urges all countries to substantively support ASEAN in its efforts in this regard;
(3) 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';
(4) supports a collaborative diplomatic process by all claimants for resolving outstanding territorial and jurisdictional disputes, allowing parties to peacefully settle claims and disputes using international law;
(5) reaffirms the United States commitment--
(A) to assist the nations of Southeast Asia to remain strong and independent;
(B) to help ensure each nation enjoys peace and stability;
(C) to broaden and deepen economic, political, diplomatic, security, social, and cultural partnership with ASEAN and its member states; and
(D) to promote the institutions of emerging regional architecture and prosperity; and
(6) 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.