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Corker: Lack of Effective Deterrent to China’s Provocative Maritime Expansion Threatens U.S. Credibility in Asia-Pacific

WASHINGTON – At a hearing today on provocative Chinese territorial expansion in disputed islands of the East and South China Seas, U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, raised concerns about the U.S. losing credibility in the Asia-Pacific by the Obama administration providing no effective deterrent to China’s actions. 

“I see no price whatsoever that China is paying for their activities in the South and East China Seas. None…We’re paying the price,” said Corker. “We have our [Asian allies]…constantly worried about…what our commitment levels are…[,] pointing out that our foreign military financing in that region is one percent of what it is in the rest of the world. And they question whether there really is any kind of ‘pivot’ or ‘rebalance’ [by the U.S. to the Asia-Pacific].”

Over the past 12 months, China has engaged in extensive land-reclamation and construction along the Paracel and Spratly Island chains despite competing claims to the territory among multiple sovereign nations. Satellite imagery displayed at the hearing demonstrates China’s dramatic transformation of certain island features over the past year. These actions contradict Chinese commitments in the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, in which all parties agreed to “exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes.”

Referring to China’s “pattern of provocative actions towards smaller claimant states,” U.S. Admiral Harry Harris, commander of the U.S. Pacific fleet, said in March, “[I]t’s no surprise that the scope and pace of building man-made islands raise serious questions about Chinese intentions”. Any use of the territory for military and surveillance purposes only would further threaten the peace and stability of the region.

At the close of today’s hearing, Senator Corker requested a separate briefing from the Department of Defense about reports that the U.S. military is considering using surveillance aircraft and naval vessels to challenge Chinese claims in the disputed waters.

For complete footage and testimony from Tuesday’s hearing, click here. Senator Corker’s complete opening statement is available here.