On Wednesday, May 13, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs David Shear testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on American interests in and strategy for the East and South China Seas.

Team AMTI has identified some choice moments from the hearing for maritime security watchers.  View the full video of their testimony above. Click here to read testimony by Daniel Russel. Click here to read testimony by David Shear.

15:56Senator Corker dismissed Senator Cardin’s call to ratify UNCLOS. “China is a signatory to the Law of the Sea treaty and it doesn’t seem to be having a very positive effect,” Corker remarked.

30:35 – Assistant Secretary Shear averred “It’s our estimate that it’ll be 2017 to 2018 before the Chinese complete construction of the air field on Fiery Cross Reef.” This is a longer-dated estimate than many analysts have preferred, and is surprising given that much of the Fiery Cross runway is already paved.

33:00 Senator Corker asked if we have considered helping other claimants build out their outposts to counter China. Assistant Secretary Russel responded: “We discourage, not encourage, the construction of outposts or the reclamation or the construction of potential military facilities by any claimant on these islands and shoals… the problem is that the scale and scope of China’s reclamation activities combined with military activities put it in a different category.”

57:37 Senator Murphy pushed Assistant Secretary Shear on the conditions that would trigger the U.S.-Philippines defense treaty. Shear repeated President Obama’s previous statement that the alliance is “ironclad” and insisted “we will keep that commitment.” Senator Murphy pushed further on whether there was any ambiguity on the casus foederis of the treaty. Shear replied: “I think that if Philippine forces came under attack, we would certainly confer urgently and intensively with our Philippine ally with a view to ensuring the safety and security of the Philippines.” Senator Murphy urged the need for clarity to avoid provocations in “grey zones.”

1:06:08 Assistant Secretary Russel identified two major obstacles to U.S. security strategy in Asia. The first was uncertainty in Asian countries over whether the United States can complete the Trans Pacific Partnership, especially after this week’s wrangling over the Trade Promotion Authority. Russel averred that TPP is crucial to strengthening the United States’ position in Asia. He also stated that the Senate should ratify the Law of the Sea convention.

1:10:12 – Senator Corker stated that he doesn’t think China is paying a price for its bad behavior. Assistant Secretary Russel “respectfully yet passionately” disagreed: “China is paying a price and it’s a growing price for its behavior… I cited the strong ASEAN pushback.” Pushed to give a tangible price for China Assistant Secretary Russel cited U.S. becoming a security guarantor for regional powers as an effect of Chinese provocation. Assistant Secretary Russel also stated that China has failed to silence criticism and legal proceedings in international forums and that regional powers are coming together to call out the Nine Dash-Line and enhance maritime monitoring.

1:17:10 Senator Corker asked Assistant Secretary Shear about the possibility of the United States conducting Freedom of Navigation (FON) operations within 12 nautical miles of artificial Chinese features. Assistant Secretary Shear stated that he could not elaborate on classified operations in an unclassified briefing. Shear insisted that the United States has innocent passage in the areas in question, and that China pays close attention to our FON ops

Earlier in the hearing {30:13}, Shear noted “Many of the features China and other claimants are building on are submerged features that do not generate territorial waters.”

1:39:06 Senator Corker concluded the hearing by stating that he does not believe the United States has a coherent policy for engaging China in maritime Asia. “I leave here as disappointed as I was a year ago that we don’t have a policy,” he lamented.


About AMTI Leadership

Dr. Michael Green is senior vice president for Asia and Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and Executive Advisor to AMTI. Gregory B. Poling is a senior fellow for Southeast Asia and director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at CSIS.