Gardner Chairs Foreign Relations Subcommittee Hearing on South China Sea Policy

Washington, DC Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy, today chaired a Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee hearing titled, “U.S. Policy Options in the South China Sea.” Gardner questioned Admiral Dennis C. Blair, former Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, as well as the Honorable Kurt M. Campbell, former Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

Gardner’s hearing followed an international arbitral tribunal’s ruling in the case of the Republic of the Philippines against the People’s Republic of China regarding the dispute over the maritime claims in the South China Sea. The tribunal, which sided with the Philippines and invalidated China’s “nine-dash line" sovereignty claim that encompassed virtually the entire South China Sea, concluded in its decision “as between the Philippines and China, China’s claims to historic rights, or other sovereign rights or jurisdiction, with respect to the maritime areas of the South China Sea encompassed by the relevant part of the ‘nine-dash line’ are contrary to the Convention and without lawful effect."

Earlier this week, Gardner, along with Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR), Joni Ernst (R-IA), John McCain (R-AZ), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Dan Sullivan (R-AK), introduced a resolution calling for all parties to respect the arbitral tribunal ruling with regard to the South China Sea and to express U.S. policy on freedom of navigation and overflight in the East and South China Seas. The legislation states that the Senate opposes any actions in the South China Sea to change the status quo through coercion or force; calls on China to cease all reclamation and militarization activities in the South China Sea; reaffirms U.S. mutual defense treaties the Philippines and Japan; and urges the Secretary of Defense to routinely enforce freedom of navigation and overflight in the East and South China Seas. 

Gardner spoke about the arbitral tribunal’s ruling and his resolution on the Senate floor. You may view his remarks here.

Click here to watch Senator Gardner’s opening remarks at the hearing.


Remarks as prepared for delivery:

Thank you all for being here today. Today’s hearing concerns the South China Sea and comes on the heels of an important ruling that could re-shape the Asia-Pacific region and global security in general. 

Yesterday, an international tribunal issued an important ruling in favor of our ally the Philippines and against the People’s Republic of China.

The panel ruled that China “breached the sovereign rights of the Philippines” with regard to the maritime disputes between those two nations and invalidated China’s sovereignty claims over almost the entirety of the South China, called the ‘nine-dash line.’ 

In the last several years, China has significantly upped the ante and undertaken a massive effort to reclaim a number of the disputed features in the South China Sea and to militarize these islands.

According to the Department of Defense, “[s]ince Chinese land reclamation efforts began in December 2013, China has…reclaimed more than 2,900 acres of land” and “has deployed artillery, built aircraft runways and buildings and positioned radars and other equipment.”  

While the United States is not directly a party to this dispute, and takes no position on the sovereignty claims among the various claimants, this ruling is important to our national security for several reasons. 

First, the South China Sea is one of the world’s most strategically important commercial waterways in the world. Almost 30 percent of the world’s maritime trade transits the South China Sea annually, including approximately $1.2 trillion in ship-borne trade bound for the United States.

Second, the ruling reinforces the rights of our military to operate freely in the region, utilizing our longstanding international rights of innocent passage and transit on the high seas, the rights long established by international law. Since October 2015, the United States Navy has conducted three freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) in the area to assert these very rights and to challenge China’s groundless sovereignty claims.

Last month, I attended the Shangri-La Dialogue along with a number of my colleagues, and we heard a tremendous amount of concern from regional leaders not only about the South China Sea, but also whether the United States can endure as a regional and global leader.

There should be no mistake: the South China Sea and what happens there is thus an important test of American leadership and our ability to support our close allies in the face of aggression that is outside of international norms.

So today, we have two highly distinguished former officials, Admiral Blair and Dr. Campbell, to help us gauge the latest developments and U.S. policy options in the South China Sea following this important ruling. 

With that, I would like to recognize the distinguished Ranking Member, Senator Cardin, for his comments


Cory Gardner is a member of the U.S. Senate serving Colorado. He sits on the Energy & Natural Resources Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee, the Commerce, Science, & Transportation Committee, and the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Committee, and is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy.

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