WASHINGTON – Leading senators expressed alarm on Thursday at the scale and speed of South China Sea and said a formal U.S. strategy was needed to slow or stop the work.
In a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Republican Senators John McCain and Bob Corker and Democrats Jack Reed and Bob Menendez said that without a comprehensive strategy “long-standing interests of the United States, as well as our allies and partners, stand at considerable risk.”
The letter also 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.
They said China’s land reclamation and construction in the South China Sea’s Spratly archipelago gave it the potential to expand its military reach and was “a direct challenge, not only to the interests of the United States and the region, but to the entire international community.”
The letter said Gaven Reef had grown about 28 acres (114,000 square meters) in the past year and previously submerged Johnson Reef was now a 25-acre (100,000-square-meter) “island.” Fiery Cross reef increased in size more than 11-fold since August.
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.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, asked about the letter, said activities in the South China Sea were “fair, reasonable and legal”.
“We have a right to do this,” Hong added, without elaborating.
China claims about 90 percent of the potentially energy rich South China Sea. The Philippines, Vietnam,Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims.
Chinese reclamation work is well advanced on six Spratly reefs and workers are building ports and fuel storage depots and possibly two airstrips. Experts say this will not overturn U.S. regional military superiority but could allow Beijing to project power deep into the maritime heart of Southeast Asia.
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.
Read this letter from the US Senators: