Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution (S. Res. 524) Friday 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.