In their letter sent to Secretary of State Pompeo, senators Bob Menendez, Ed Markey, Patrick Leahy, and Brian Schatz said, “China’s assertive behavior in the Exclusive Economic Zones of other claimant states, its use of reclaimed and militarized artificial features as platforms for coercion, its decision to ignore the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling against its territorial claims, and its efforts to pressure ASEAN to negotiate a restrictive Code of Conduct all deserve greater U.S. attention, leadership, and cooperation with our allies and partners.”

Senator Patrick Leahy. Photo: Reuters

“A South China Sea where international law is respected, freedom of navigation is ensured, commerce flows freely, multilateral regional organizations are central, and regional countries are not subject to coercion is crucial to American interests in the Indo-Pacific,” the letter wrote.

“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. This challenge requires a fully articulated and comprehensive strategy and a regional consensus with allies and partners, with ASEAN at the center of those efforts,” it said.

In their letter, the senators urged the US Secretary of State to ensure that China’s aggressive and expansionist behavior in the South China Sea is a top priority in his discussions at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum in Bangkok on August 2, 2019.

“We therefore urge you to use the upcoming meeting in Bangkok as an opportunity to begin to forge a consensus to protect the rights of U.S. allies and partners under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, end Chinese infringement of the legitimate rights of other coastal states, build respect for international law and institutions, and counter China’s efforts to undermine a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

According to the senators, it is not too late to hold China to account for its behavior, and to deter further Chinese aggression in the maritime domain.

“The Senate stands ready to support an enhanced effort to address this challenge,” they said.

Source: VNA