Aloha Friend, March 30, 2016
Last week, during a House Armed Services Committee Hearing, I had the opportunity to address Chinese participation in the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise with Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph F. Dunford Jr.
In response to recent provocative actions taken by China in the South China Sea, I told the Secretary and Chairman that I would follow through with an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to prohibit their participation if the Department of Defense (DoD) does not revoke their invitation themselves.
The stated goal of RIMPAC is a “unique training opportunity that helps participants foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s oceans.” Yet, China has continually undermined America’s relationships in the Asia-Pacific and threatened the freedom of navigation that serves as the engine of our global economy.
Since September 2013, China has been “island building” by undertaking extensive reclamation and construction on several reefs in the Spratly Island chain in the South China Sea, creating more than 3,000 acres of artificial landmasses. China has reclaimed 17 times more land in 20 months than the other claimants combined over the past 40 years.
More recently, reclamation activity has been suspected around the Scarborough Shoal, which is only 120 miles from Subic Bay in the Philippines. If China builds a runway in this area, they will have total access across the South China Sea and greatly aggravate already high tensions in the region.
An exercise of RIMPAC’s prestige must be looked upon with the highest of scrutiny on what implications and messages it sends to our allies and partners in the region. Participation in a joint exercise of this magnitude should be reserved for those that share the common interests and goals of the U.S. and our international partners, not those that seek to undermine them.
Freedom of navigation in the Asia-Pacific and across the globe are critical to the world economy and our nation’s objectives. While the RIMPAC exercise offers a venue for international cooperation, it can only be successful if we uphold the international laws and norms that we seek to promote in the first place.
Congressman Mark Takai