US Senate Bill Seeks Action in China Sea Disputes

Posted June 14th, 2011 at 1:35 am (UTC-5)
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Two United States senators have introduced legislation criticizing Chinese use of force in maritime disputes with its neighbors, and calling for the U.S. military to defend freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

The bill was introduced Monday by Jim Webb and James Inhofe, the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate subcommittee that oversees American foreign policy in East Asia. The bill, which may never become law, also urges the Obama administration to pursue multilateral negotiations among the parties to the disputes.

Speaking earlier Monday at a policy seminar in Washington, Webb said he thought the United States has taken too weak a position on the disputes, which have been heating up for weeks.

Vietnam on Monday staged several hours of live-fire artillery drills in waters off its eastern coast which are also being claimed by China.

The United States angered China last year when it joined several countries at a regional security summit in calling for a multilateral approach to solving disputes in the South China Sea. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also declared a U.S. national interest in maintaining free navigation through the waterway.

However Washington has said little about the latest disputes involving China, Vietnam and the Philippines, calling merely for all parties to settle their differences peacefully. Vietnam said this week it would “welcome” greater efforts by the “international community” to help maintain peace and security in the area.

Vietnam complained late last month that Chinese naval vessels cut an exploration cable trailing from an oil survey ship in waters it claims as its exclusive economic zone. In a second incident last week, a Chinese fishing boat interfered with another exploration cable. China said the second incident was an accident but claims both incidents took place in waters under its administration.

The Philippines, meanwhile, has accused China of offloading building materials and erecting marker posts on islets it says are within its exclusive economic zone. It said the action violated an agreement negotiated with Southeast Asian nations in 2002.

China claims it was acting legally in waters under its administration.