UPDATE: Exclusive McCain Comment; Senate Staffer Chides White House For Inaction
WASHINGTON: In a dramatic example of the increasing friction in the Spratly Islands between China, the United States and most of China’s neighbors, the US Navy today released a video of a P-8 surveillance plane crew as the PLA Navy challenges it while the plane monitors the building of new artificial islands claimed by China.
This is certainly not the first time the Chinese have evinced disapproval of P-8 flights in international waters they claim. Last year, a Chinese fighter flew directly under and alongside a P-8, coming within 20 feet. Then it conducted a barrel roll over the P-8, coming within 45 feet. Just as today’s Navy video was released, three top senators issued a resolution condemning “China’s construction of artificial land formations in the Spratly Islands and calling for a peaceful and multilateral resolution to the South China Sea territorial dispute.” We understand the timing, though fabulous, was coincidental.
Senators Brian Schatz of Hawaii, a member of the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, and Dan Sullivan of Alaska introduced a resolution condemning China’s construction of artificial land formations in the Spratly Islands and calling for a peaceful and multilateral resolution to the South China Sea territorial dispute.
“China’s effort to unilaterally redraw the region’s maritime borders exacerbates the risks of misperceptions, accidents, and conflict,” Schatz said in a statement. “Our bipartisan resolution makes clear that China needs to act responsibly. The United States is committed to promoting regional peace and stability, and protecting its interests and the interests of its partners and allies who have committed to addressing this dispute through a multilateral process.”
A statement from the three senators notes that “China has aggressively constructed artificial islands in the South China Sea, violating customary and international law and a 2002 Code of Conduct which helps govern the region.” Since five other countries claim parts of the same territory, “China’s provocative actions threaten to undermine regional stability,” it continues.
UPDATE BEGINS: A Senate staffer suggests that China needs to feel the costs of its uncooperative behavior. “Maybe the U.S.-China Nuclear Cooperation Agreement should not be renewed, or we should consider further arms sales to Taiwan, or we could undertake a major initiative to help build the capacity of the Philippine military?” the staffer says in an email. The staffer, clearly reflecting the views of Sen. John McCain and other senior lawmakers on the committee, notes that while the Chinese islands have grown from 600 acres in February to 2,000 acres “we have heard lots of talk about the Administration considering ideas for raising costs on China’s behavior, but very little has been done save strong statements from administration officials.” More “public displays of the facts as China is seeking to alter them” — such as the P-8 video — should continue. But “many more things should be on the table that offer opportunities to raise costs both vertically in the South China Sea and also horizontally in other areas of the relationship.”
McCain sent us a statement describing the video as:”long overdue” and making clear he wants to see more public imagery of the Chinese at work on these island-building projects. “I have continued to call for the release of unclassified U.S. intelligence material that will demonstrate the extent of China’s land reclamation project,” he says. “Images can be powerful tools, and this long-overdue public video shows clearly the alarming scope of Beijing’s efforts to assert its vast territorial claims.” UPDATE ENDS
Meanwhile, McCain says in the Spratly’s statement that the U.S. will continue to work with our allies and partners throughout the region to deepen our relationships and our mutual commitment to uphold peace and stability in this critical maritime highway.” Why? It’s simple, really: “The United States has a national interest in the South China Sea.”