WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States must not tolerate China's use of military coercion in pursuit of its territorial claims in the seas of East Asia, lawmakers said at a hearing Tuesday. Experts warned that Beijing's assertiveness is unnerving its neighbors and challenges American security interests.
Separately, the Philippine envoy to Washington complained about China's "aggression" and urged Vietnam, another claimant state in the South China Sea, to follow the Philippines in mounting an international legal challenge to Beijing's expansive claims.
China's recent declaration of an air defense zone over disputed islands controlled by Japan in the East China Sea, and its new rules to regulate fishing in a huge tranche of the South China Sea, have deepened concerns that its rise as a regional power could spark a confrontation.
House lawmakers overseeing U.S. policy toward Asia and America's use of sea-power held a joint hearing to consider Washington's response, amid worries that U.S. may be drawn into a crisis or conflict over a territorial dispute involving China because the U.S. has bilateral defense treaties with Japan and the Philippines.
Republican Rep. Steve Chabot of Ohio called China "dangerously aggressive" and said it was attempting to take disputed territories by gradual force with the "misguided hope that Japan, Southeast Asian nations and the U.S. will just grudgingly accept it."
Calling for a strong, bipartisan message from Congress, Democratic Rep. Ami Bera of California said that China's "threatening and provocative moves to assert their maritime territorial claims are unacceptable."
Republican Rep. Randy Forbes of Virginia said the U.S. must be "100 percent intolerant of China's territorial claims and its continued resort to forms of military coercion to alter the status quo in the region."
Lawmakers typically take a more uncompromising stance on foreign policy than the administration. But their opinions reflect widespread concern in Washington about China's intentions as it challenges decades of American military pre-eminence in Asia, and its adherence to international law.
China unilaterally declared its air defense zone over parts of the East China Sea in late November, requiring foreign aircraft to submit flight plans to Chinese authorities and accept instructions from the Chinese military. The U.S. responded by flying B-52 bombers through the zone, to show it didn't recognize it. The State Department last week also criticized the new Chinese regulations on fishing in the South China Sea as "provocative and potentially dangerous."