WASHINGTON: In a strikingly vigorous and bipartisan letter 03-19-15_Joint letter to Kerry and Carter to President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Ash Carter, the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees says China actions violate regional agreements and pose a threat to both US, allied and broad international interests.
The letter says the US should develop a strategy that includes measures we can take to “slow down or stop China’s reclamation activities in the South China Sea; whether we should release intelligence about these activities more frequently; should the US stop certain types of security cooperation with China if they don’t stop what’ they’re doing; and what the US can do diplomatically and in other venues to influence China’s behavior.
The authors are careful to say they agree with Obama that China “can and should play a constructive role” in the region and globally, but the way they phrase the island issue — “China’s coercive peacetime behavior” — makes clear they don’t think building these islands is constructive.
How extensive is that work?
“It is our understanding that the majority of this work has been completed in the past twelve months alone, and if current build-rates proceed, China could complete the extent of its planned reclamation in the coming year. Gaven Reef has 114,000 square meters of new land since March 2014. Johnson Reef, which was previously a submerged feature, now stands as a 100,000 square meter “island.” Construction and reclamation has increased Fiery Cross in size more than 11-fold since August of last year.”
Perhaps one answer would be to fund similar “reclamation” efforts by Vietnam, Philippines, Japan and South Korea? Or should the US “develop” new islands for our use? Well, those probably won’t happen because then we’d be violating our own norms, rules and agreements and mimicking “China’s coercive peacetime behavior.”
China’s reaction to this letter will speak volumes — if they respond. Since this does not come from the Executive Branch they may keep silent.