The South China Sea and East China Sea Sanctions Bill, sponsored by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.), is aimed to punish the Chinese regime for its “illegitimate” actions to claim territorial rights in the waters off the country’s coastline, the South China Morning Post reported.
“China’s illegitimate actions in the South China Sea threaten the region’s security and American commerce,” said Rubio, in a 2017 statement when the bill was first introduced.
“These ongoing, flagrant violations of international norms cannot be allowed to go unchecked, and the sanctions called for in this legislation would put Beijing on notice that the United States means business and intends to hold violators accountable.”
If passed, the law would require the government to seize U.S.-based assets and deny or revoke U.S. visas of any Chinese person who contributes to construction or development projects, or threatens the “peace, security or stability” in contested areas of the South China Sea.
It would also sanction foreign financial institutions that finance such activities.
China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan have competing claims in the South China Sea. The waters, home to rich fishing grounds and potentially valuable natural resources, is one of the world’s major shipping routes.
In recent years, the Chinese regime has militarized areas of the South China Sea by building military installations on artificial islands and reefs. On top of these military activities, it also has deployed coast guard ships and Chinese fishing boats to intimate fishing vessels, blocked access to waterways, and helped seize shoals and reefs.
The U.S. military has conducted freedom of navigation exercises and naval drills in the disputed waters to counter Beijing’s claims and preserve access to the regions that it says constitutes international waters.
Rubio told the Post that the bill “strengthens efforts by the U.S. and our allies to counter Beijing’s illegal and dangerous militarization of disputed territory that it has seized in the South China Sea.”
“This legislation reiterates America’s commitment to keeping the region free and open for all countries, and to holding the Chinese government accountable for bullying and coercing other nations in the region,” he said.
The bill would also require the U.S. State Department to provide a report to Congress every six months on Chinese persons and companies involved in construction projects in the waters, including land reclamation, island-making, the building of mobile communication infrastructure, and the building of electricity and fuel supply facilities.
The legislation was previously introduced in 2017, but never proceeded from the Committee on Foreign Relations to reach a vote in the Senate. A spokesperson for Rubio told the Post they were confident the bill would advance this time around due to the new Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), placing emphasis on China issues.
The spokesperson added that the bill would be identical to the version introduced in 2017.
The bill’s passage would add to the growing list of measures taken by Washington to counter the Chinese regime’s military and economic ambitions worldwide.
On May 15, the Trump administration effectively blacklisted Chinese telecom giant Huawei from doing business with U.S. firms on national security grounds. The move marked the toughest U.S. action yet to address security concerns posed by the company’s equipment, which experts, lawmakers, and officials say could be used by Beijing for spying.
In early May, President Trump also raised tariffs to 25 percent from 10 percent on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports in response to the Chinese regime allegedly backtracking on commitments negotiated over months of trade discussions.