Hearing of the Seapower and Projection Forces Markup Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee - South China Sea Maritime Disputes


Date: July 7, 2016
Location: Washington, DC

I want to welcome members of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee and the House Foreign Affairs Asia-Pacific Subcommittee to a special joint hearing on the topic of Maritime Disputes in the South China Sea. I also want to extend a warm welcome to our two witnesses:

* Mr. Abraham Denmark, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia; and
* Ms. Colin Willett, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Strategy and Multilateral Affairs in the State Department's Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

I thank you both for being here to testify at this special joint hearing.

Our topic today is a timely and critically important one. Early next week, the Permanent Court of Arbitration is expected to rule on the legitimacy of China's expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea.

In the aftermath of that ruling, the world will be watching two things: first, to see whether China behaves like a responsible stakeholder in the international system, and, if not, to see how America responds.

For decades, the United States has sought to facilitate China's integration into in the global economy and the rules-based international order that has benefitted Asia so well. China's reaction to next week's ruling will provide a clear indicator of how that is going, and whether Beijing's quest for regional dominance can be curbed by international law and world opinion.

America's response will also send a powerful signal. While the United States does not take sides in territorial disputes, we can and should stand up for those parties that pursue their peaceful resolution. The Philippines is one such party, but not the only one, and what we do--or don't do--to support our allies and the rules-based international system in the weeks ahead will have echoes across the region and in other corners of the globe.

With so much at stake in the South China Sea, it is critically important that the United States have a clear policy toward the region, and a strategy to sustain peace, prosperity, and the rule of law in Asia. Diplomacy will play a crucial role in avoiding and resolving conflict, and I am pleased to have Ms. Willett and members of the HFAC committee with us here today to discuss that critical aspect of any interagency approach to the region.

If China continues to flaunt international law and world opinion, however, I firmly believe that the surest way of averting another devastating conflict in the Asia-Pacific region will be for the United States to remain present, engaged, and capable of projecting decisive military power in the region. Might does not make right, but it can be used to deter threats to peace, prosperity, and the rule of law.

That is why I have been pleased to see an increase in U.S. naval and military presence in the region and an increase in the frequency of our Freedom of Navigation Operations. I look forward to hearing from Mr. Denmark about what the Department of Defense is doing to deter Chinese aggression, reassure our allies and partners, and maintain a favorable military balance in the Asia-Pacific region going forward.