A group of US senators introduced a resolution this week urging China and ASEAN to complete work on a code of conduct for settling disputes in the East Sea (also known as the South China Sea) and other maritime domains before tensions rise any further, Foreign Policy reported Wednesday.
The senators included John Kerry, Richard Lugar, John McCain, Jim Webb, James Inhofe and Joe Lieberman.
The resolution urged all parties in the region to "exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and stability."
The senators urged countries in the region to refrain from occupying uninhabited islands, reefs or shoals and urged all nations "to handle their differences in a constructive manner.'"
According to the article in Foreign Policy, the Obama administration has been working quietly but in a determined fashion to press Southeast Asian countries to settle their internal disputes and come up with a unified negotiating position for how to complete a code of conduct for settling maritime disputes.
The senators' resolution supports that process but also reaffirms a US commitment to assist ASEAN countries in remaining strong and independent and pledges to deepen the US partnership with ASEAN nations.
The resolution also "supports enhanced operations by the United States armed forces in the Western Pacific, including in the South China Sea, including in partnership with the armed forces of others countries in the region, in support of freedom of navigation, the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, including the peaceful resolution of issues of sovereignty, and unimpeded lawful commerce."
All parties at the Cambodian summit had agreed to draft such a code in 2002.
"We have seen worrisome instances of economic coercion and the problematic use of military and government vessels in connection with disputes among fisherman,"Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on July 12 in Cambodia when attending the ASEAN Regional Forum. "So we look to ASEAN and China to make meaningful progress toward finalizing a code of conduct for the South China Sea that is based on international law and agreements."
In the end, however, no resolution was reached at the summit.
In a statement given to Foreign Policy, Sen. Kerry said ASEAN's failure to agree on a joint statement regarding the code of conduct at the Cambodia summit added to the rising tensions between China and its neighbors over the issues and convinced the senators that it was time to weigh in.
"These disputes are real and they're getting more serious. I'd think the least the Senate can do is to go on the record clearly and unequivocally in favor of ASEAN efforts to develop a code of conduct in the South China Sea," Kerry said.
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