Congress Raises Alarm As Obama Ignores Chinese Expansion In South China Sea

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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The recent collapse of the government of Yemen and U.S. involvement in negotiations on the Iran nuclear deal have allowed China to aggressively ramp up militarization in the internationally disputed areas of the South China Sea.

Now, lawmakers in Congress are finally starting to ring the alarm bell.

Bloomberg View’s Josh Rogin noted Thursday that congressional leaders are moving away from an exclusive focus on Iran and reminding President Barack Obama of his administration’s prior commitment to the once oft-touted “Pivot to Asia.” During the Senate budget debate last weekend, two amendments were added to encourage the administration to protect navigation in the Pacific, in addition to providing funds for military training exercises with strong allies in the Asia-Pacific region.

The focus of the administration’s strategy has evidently shifted since it was first introduced in 2009 from cooperation on global problems to frowning upon China’s flouting of international law.

Among China’s more aggressive actions is the creation of “a great wall of sand,” as Admiral Harry Harris Jr., commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, stated in a speech on Wednesday in Australia.

These walls of sand are manmade islets that provide a home to military equipment, like anti-aircraft towers and helipads. In total, China has created 1.5 square miles of landmass on top of coral reefs. (RELATED: Will The US Be Able To Stand Up To The Chinese Navy?)

According to Bonnie S. Glaser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, China’s former policy of laying low on international matters is increasingly being cast aside by Chinese political elites in favor of a bolder approach. Without an adequate response, Glaser argues that “greater Chinese assertiveness would fuel the belief—already emerging in China and elsewhere—that the United States is in inexorable decline.”

The Chinese intend to capitalize on this belief, as they have in the past. When American forces pulled out of Vietnam in the 1970s, China snatched up the Paracel Islands from Saigon.

Currently, China claims 90 percent of the South China Sea based on what’s called the nine-dash line. Around $5 trillion dollars in global trade moves through the region every year, a region which is also thought to be rich with oil and gas reserves.

“Without a comprehensive strategy for addressing the PRC’s broader policy and conduct, longstanding interests of the United States, as well as our allies and partners, stand at considerable risk,” GOP Sen. John McCain and three other senators wrote in a recent letter to Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Secretary of State John Kerry.

Although Iran has taken the spotlight, Congress is intent on making sure that the administration doesn’t forget about China’s creeping movements which threaten U.S. allies and interests in the Asia-Pacific region.

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