What do U.S. legislators think about China’s recent moves in the East and South China Seas? Well, we got a pretty good idea last Thursday when the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan resolution in essence condemning China’s actions and ambitions in Asia. The resolution, which is primarily “aimed at altering China’s behavior toward U.S. allies in the Asia-Pacific region,” according to The Hill, is a reaction to China’s decision in November 2013 to unilaterally impose an air defense identification zone over a large swathe of the East China Sea where it currently disputes the sovereignty of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands with Japan.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), a co-sponsor of the resolution, was unequivocal about what he saw as the United States’ enduring interest in the status quo in the Asia-Pacific: “The United States is an Asia-Pacific nation and we have an abiding national security interest in the maintenance of regional stability, as recent events have demonstrated.” The resolution, also cosponsored by Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), makes sweeping statements on the status quo in the Asia-Pacific. It “condemns coercive and threatening actions or the use of force to impede freedom of operations in international airspace by military or civilian aircraft, to alter the status quo or to destabilize the Asia-Pacific region; [and] urges the Government of the People’s Republic of China to refrain from implementing the declared East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), which is contrary to freedom of overflight in international airspace.”
Furthermore, the resolution demonstrates the United States’ commitment to its two major treaty allies in Northeast Asia, Japan and South Korea, by commending their governments “for their restraint.” Additionally, the resolution applauds South Korea’s decision to “[engage] in a deliberate process of consultations with the United States, Japan and China prior to announcing its adjustment of its Air Defense Identification Zone on December 9, 2013, and for its commitment to implement this adjusted Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in a manner consistent with international practice and respect for the freedom of overflight and other internationally lawful uses of international airspace.”
The bipartisan nature of the resolution sends a strong message to China about the degree to which a domestic consensus exists in the United States about China’s behavior in the region. “Freedom of navigation in the Asia-Pacific region is what makes trade and peace possible, and this resolution reinforces the Senate’s commitment to this goal,” noted Rubio, adding that “As countries like China attempt to disrupt the region by violating international agreements and making illegitimate territorial claims, it’s a key time for the U.S. government to remind our allies, partners in the region and the entire world that America is fully committed to continued peace and prosperity in Asia.”
The resolution will do little to temper China’s behavior in the East and South China Seas, but it does a good job of conveying exactly where the United States stands on China’s attempts to revise the status quo in the Asia-Pacific. Incidentally, as Dingding Chen argues on Flashpoints, these sorts of pronouncements may be more counterproductive than helpful for U.S.-China relations.