Mr. Chairman and Members of the Commission, thank you for inviting me to testify at today’s hearing.
I will focus my remarks on China’s recent actions and statements pertaining to the South China Sea and their implications for Southeast Asia. In my testimony today, I will briefly outline elements of recent Chinese behavior that are cause for concern in Southeast Asia and summarize the reactions of various Southeast Asian states. I will then propose measures the United States might consider to help bolster the defenses of Southeast Asian countries and assist them in ensuring their sovereignty, while preserving a stable military balance in the region.
This Commission’s work is critical because the stakes in the South China Sea could not be higher. The South China Sea is a region of growing strategic interest for many countries in the world, including the United States. More than one-third of the world’s seaborne trade flows through its contested waters. Its fisheries are an important source of revenue for the countries it adjoins. While the potential oil and gas reserves that lie underneath the South China Sea are difficult to quantify, they are likely significant. U.S. regional interests, however, extend beyond the shorelines around the South China Sea and encompass the independence and sovereignty of the countries of Southeast Asia.
“The United States,” Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has declared, “like every nation, has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia’s maritime commons, and respect for international law in the South China Sea.” In the last year, however, China has made a series of provocative moves that, when coupled with the continuation of its arms buildup and development of naval power projection capabilities, have raised concerns throughout the region about its intentions and potential expansionist designs in the East and South China Seas. A brief overview of some of China’s statements and actions suggests the need for a more proactive U.S. approach in the region.