Hearing of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee - Opening Statement of Rep. James Forbes, Hearing on South China Sea


Date: Sept. 21, 2016
Location: Washington, DC

"Today the subcommittee convenes to receive testimony on Seapower and Projection Forces in the South China Sea.

Providing testimony today are:
* Ms. Bonnie S. Glaser, Senior Adviser for Asia and Director, China Power Project, Center for Strategic & International Studies;
* Dr. James Kraska, Professor, Oceans Law and Policy, U.S. Naval War College; and
* Dr. Andrew S. Erickson, Professor of Strategy, China Maritime Studies Institute, U.S. Naval War College.

I want to thank you all for being with us today.

Our topic today is the South China Sea, and the role that America's seapower and projection forces can play in maintaining peace, prosperity, and the rule of international law in that critical body of water. Like Berlin in the Cold War, the South China Sea has become a symbol and a flashpoint of the increasingly competitive relationship between two great powers, a place of both inherent and symbolic importance. Over the last few years, it has become the place that the world is watching, to see how the balance of power in Asia is changing, and to measure America's willingness and ability to deter coercion and aggression in that important region.

While I approve of very few of this administration's foreign policies, I do believe that their early instinct to devote more resources and attention to the Indo-Asia-Pacific region was correct. That said, more than rhetoric is required to counterbalance China's growing military power and assertiveness.

Last year, myself, Chairman Thornberry, and 27 other Members of this chamber signed a letter to the President and the Secretary of Defense calling upon them to take a stronger stance in the South China Sea, to increase U.S. military presence in this critical region, and ramp up our Freedom of Navigation Operations in disputed waters. I have been pleased to see that some of that has occurred, especially in the sensitive period around the UN law of the sea ruling.

At the same time, however, I think it is clear that more is needed to defend our allies and our interests in the region. Despite the ruling, Beijing still is laying claim to almost all of the entire sea. Work on China's artificial features continues apace, with much of it clearly military in nature. China's military and paramilitary forces continue to wage a campaign of 'gray-zone' aggression and increase their presence and activity in the region. All in all, the trends seem to be toward China's de-facto control of this vital body of water.

With the end of the Obama administration approaching, I believe we are entering a time of both vulnerability and opportunity. I am concerned that Xi Jinping may see President Obama's last few months as a window of opportunity for establishing an Air Defense Identification Zone, expanding reclamation activities to Scarborough Shoal, accelerating the militarization of the artificial features, or some other move that will test our resolve. I think it is critically important that we deter such activity in the months ahead.

At the same time, I also see an opportunity for a new administration to take a new and stronger stance on the South China Sea, and redouble our efforts to maintain peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific Region. I have my own thoughts on what we must do as a nation, but I look forward to hearing from our witnesses how we can better deter Chinese aggression, reassure our allies and partners, and maintain a stable military balance in the Asia-Pacific region going forward."