China’s infringement upon East Sea territorial sovereignty became a focus of the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs’ hearing on May 21 regarding East Asia and Pacific FY 2015 Budget Priorities as part of the pivot to Asia.
Scores of US congressmen asked President Barack Obama’s administration to evoke a stronger response against China’s provocative actions.
They expressed particular concern over China’s recent actions, causing mounting tensions. During the question time with Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel, congressmen vehemently condemned China’s placement of its drilling rig in Vietnam’s waters and illegal land reclamation at the Johnson South Reef.
Regarding the US response, Daniel Russel said the US Government has addressed these issues directly with the Chinese diplomatically and made no secret of its strong belief that China must use diplomacy, not force. The issue is not how strong is China but the issue is how strong is China’s legal claim in their territorial disputes. The US takes no exception to China’s right to make a claim but does take exception to behavior which is coercive, intimidating and non-diplomatic, Russel said.
According to Russel, the US has urged China to cooperate with neighboring countries and ASEAN states claiming sovereignty over the East Sea to frontload negotiations on the Code of Conduct in the East Sea (COC) by an agreement on a mechanism for preventing conflicts or managing incidents that may happen at sea.
The US not only wants to maintain positive and constructive relations with China but also wants it to establish good relations with its neighbors.
A Congressman Ami Bera of California warned that if the US does not respond to get China to step back and act in a diplomatic fashion with international norms, Beijing will continue with its current pattern of behavior of coercion, intimidation and non-diplomacy in other disputes including disputed territorial waters with the Philippines.
According to Bera, the US needs to send a firm message to China that their actions are unacceptable in the modern world where international laws and international norms exist.
Russel said that during a recent trip to Asia, President Obama pledged both in words and actions the US’ commitment to regional stability as well as Washington’s determination to stand by international laws and norms.
Apart from the US’ diplomatic channel, the criticism from the international community against the unilateral action by China certainly has an important effect on the calculations of the decision makers in Beijing.
Meanwhile, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher said that the US government’s reaction is not strong enough for the action, which he called “violence and arrogance” of China. In addition to the East Sea issue, US Congressmen also expressed concerns over China’s acts of currency manipulation and cyber- attacks.
Assistant Secretary Russell said the US Department of Justice’s recent indictment against five Chinese servicemen for cyber thief reflects President Obama’s strong commitment to ensuring cyber security and combating cyber crime.
America is concerned about government-sponsored cyber-enabled thief of US trade secrets and sensitive information that are then transferred to Chinese companies and used for commerce gain, he noted.
Russell said the US Government has proposed a budget of US$1.2 billion for activities in the East Asia and Pacific region in 2015, including more than US$ 800 million for foreign assistance programs.
The US is also expected to provide US$18 million to help strengthen the capacity of the Vietnam Coast Guard in terms of rescue work, disaster response and other activities. Washington will also intensify Governance for an Inclusive Growth programme aiming to assist Vietnam in carrying out important commitments in the framework of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP).