The Chinese foreign ministry hit back on Thursday at a US Senate proposal to punish Chinese individuals and entities for “illegal and dangerous” activities in the South China Sea.
Lu Kang, a spokesman for the ministry, said the “legislation violates the basic norms of international law and international relations and the Chinese side, of course, firmly objects”.
He said the construction of reefs on disputed territory – one of the activities cited in the draft legislation – was “fully within the scope” of China’s sovereign rights.
“We urge the US side not to proceed the deliberation of the legislation, in order not to bring new disruption to the China-US relations,” Lu told a regular press briefing.
Marco Rubio, the US Republican who is leading the drive to introduce the legislation, told the South China Morning Post, that a bipartisan group of senators would reintroduce the South China Sea and East China Sea Sanctions Bill on Thursday.
The bill would require the government to seize US-based financial assets and revoke or deny US visas to anyone engaged in “actions or policies that threaten the peace, security or stability” of areas in the South China Sea that are contested by one or more members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
The bill would also require the US secretary of state to provide Congress with a report every six months identifying any Chinese person or company involved in construction or development projects in contested areas of the sea.
Activities targeted by the bill include land reclamation, the making of islands, lighthouse construction and the building of mobile communication infrastructure.
Initially introduced in March 2017, the proposed legislation will need to pass both the Senate and House of Representatives before being sent to President Donald Trump to sign into law.
Drew Thompson, a former US defence department official said, “the introduction of the act reflects the bipartisan outrage over China’s actions in the maritime areas on its periphery, as well as Congress’s frustration that the [Trump] Administration’s response has been limited to freedom of navigation operations and rhetoric”.
“Inaction by the US, other maritime countries, claimant states, however, hasn’t made the situation any better either, so there is no real cost to the US for stepping up its opposition to China’s behaviour and imposing costs on companies and individuals responsible for China’s actions in the East and South China seas,” continued Thompson, a visiting senior research fellow with the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.
“The act will not reduce tensions, and it will potentially give China a justification to harden its position and even seek to further restrict access to international waters and airspace,” he said.
Diao Daming, an associate professor of international relations specialising in US Congressional studies at Renmin University in Beijing said he was not surprised by the proposal given the US Congress has already passed a number of bills targeting China over the past two years and there was no sign this trend would stop.
“Since 2017, the US Congress has passed multiple laws that seriously interfered in Chinese domestic affairs – which had never happened before in the congressional history,” he said.
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