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Updated 2:12 PM EST, Wed, Jan 29, 2020

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Two US Congressmen File Bill for the US to Defend the South China Sea

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(Photo : US Congress) Rep. Matt Salmon and Rep. Eliot Engel

Two congressmen in the United States House of Representatives have filed a bill in the U.S. Congress that will have the United States defend the South China Sea. The bill will also strengthen the military capabilities of U.S. allies in the region such as the Philippines to stand up to China.

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The bill, which was filed less than a week after the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration said China has no legal right to claim ownership of the South China Sea on July 12, was authored by Rep. Eliot Engel (Democrat-New York 16th District) and Rep. Matt Salmon (Republican-Arizona 5th District).

China has refused to abide by the arbitration court ruling and has instead intensified its naval exercises in the face of two U.S. Navy nuclear carrier battle groups consisting of two Nimitz-class supercarriers, two cruisers, six destroyers, 140 aircraft and two nuclear attack submarines. The People's Liberation Army Navy, which has no operational aircraft carrier, is not expected to prevail in any naval conflict against the Americans in the South China Sea.

The Engel/Salmon bill officially intends to strengthen international cooperation and support freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. Analysts, however, said the bill also seeks to reassure U.S. treaty allies in Asia such as Japan and the Philippines the U.S. is ready to commit its military power to enforce the arbitration court ruling, which is legally binding on China as a signatory to the U.N. Commission on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) treaty that came into force in 1994.

China has repudiated UNCLOS after disavowing the arbitration tribunal findings that were overwhelmingly in favor of the Philippines and that declared China's claims illegal. China has threatened to withdraw from UNCLOS but hasn't yet done so.

Salmon said that following last week's landmark arbitral tribunal decision on the maritime territorial disputes in the South China Sea, China has already signaled its refusal to comply with the ruling, scorning international law and rejecting binding and peaceful dispute resolution.

"It is paramount, now more than ever, that we work to strengthen the security capabilities of our allies and partners in the South China Sea region," said Salmon.

He said U.S assistance will increase the capacity of its allies to monitor their own maritime territories by improving their military and law enforcement prowess, and by building the bonds between their militaries and the U.S.

As a result, "the maritime nations of Southeast Asia, we will be in a better position to negotiate a peaceful resolution to one of the most dangerous security situations of our times.  This legislation builds upon our solid relationships with allies and partners in the region to shore up our response to China's continued belligerence."

Engel noted the United States, as a Pacific power, has an enduring interest in the stability of the Asia-Pacific region. He said the landmark ruling by an international Arbitral Tribunal in the case of the Philippines versus China provides an important opportunity to decide what kind of Asia-Pacific region we will live in.

"Will it be a region that respects the rule of law to enhance the security of all nations? Will it be a region committed to resolving disputes diplomatically and through peaceful means? Will it be a place where all countries have confidence in their freedom to legal passage through waterways and airspace without fear of harassment or intimidation?  The United States remains committed to that vision," asked Engel.

He explained this legislation lays out key tenants of U.S. maritime security policy in the region, and if enacted, will increase the maritime law enforcement and security capabilities of our allies and partners, especially those bordering the South China Sea.

"It is important to note that our legislation poses no threat to any particular country in the region.   Rather, we seek to promote an enduring legal framework whereby all countries bordering the South China Sea can live in peace and security while sharing in the natural resources of this diverse region."

Salmon is Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific. Engel is the ranking minority member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee as Chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere.

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