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Rubio introduces South China Sea sanctions legislation

By TYLER HLAVAC | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 17, 2017

Sen. Marco Rubio has proposed legislation that would penalize Chinese nationals or organizations that participate in China’s artificial island-building projects in the South China Sea.

Rubio, R-Fla., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and its East Asia and the Pacific Subcommittee, introduced the bill on Wednesday. It’s co-sponsored by Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md.

The bill would “impose sanctions and prohibit visas for Chinese individuals and entities who contribute to construction or development projects, and those who threaten the peace, security or stability of the South China Sea or East China Sea,” according to a statement from Rubio’s office.

The measure would bar American citizens from making investments in Chinese groups under sanction. It would also restrict foreign aid to countries that recognize China’s claim to sovereignty over maritime claims in the region if contested by neighboring nations.

Taiwan, which receives U.S. security aid but has China as its top trading partner, would be exempt from foreign-aid restrictions within the bill.

China claims Taiwan as a breakaway province, but numerous Taiwanese polls have shown support for reunification with China in the single digits.

China Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying responded to Rubio's proposal during a news conference Friday, saying the bill showed the senator’s "arrogance and ignorance."

"This so-called bill introduced by some individual U.S. senators jars. It shows their arrogance and ignorance. The Chinese side holds a clear and consistent position on Diaoyu Dao and the South China Sea issues."

The bill is still in its early stages and has yet to be reviewed by committees.

China maintains claims to nearly 90 percent of the South China Sea and its islands based on “historical discovery,” despite a ruling by an international tribunal last year that deemed a map of its claims invalid under international maritime law.

It has used armed fishing boats and military assets within other nations’ exclusive economic zones to enforce its claims, despite counter claims by several of its neighbors.

China has constructed more than 3,000 acres of artificial islands atop submerged reefs, according to Pentagon reports and satellite imagery.

“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,” Rubio said in a statement.

The bill would also sanction foreign banks doing business with sanctioned groups if China takes several actions, including building on the Philippine-claimed Scarborough Shoal or “increased provocative actions” against Japanese forces in the East China Sea.

Cardin said in a statement that the bill would help the U.S safeguard “long-standing national interests in the free-flow of commerce, freedom of navigation, and in the peaceful diplomatic resolution of disputes consistent with international law.”

hlavac.tyler@stripes.com

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tours the guided-missile cruiser USS Shiloh at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, in 2014.
KRISTOPHER HORTON/U.S. NAVY PHOTO

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