By Roy Mabasa
The United States is confident that the risk and concerns of a possible military conflict brought about by Beijing’s island-building activity in the South China Sea can be avoided as Washington becomes more “engaged” and “active” in the region.
US State Secretary Michael Pompeo made this statement during an interview with San Diego-based One America News (OAN) network last week. An official transcript of which was posted on the State Department’s website.
“I think it’ll get resolved. I think we’ve made clear in this administration, unlike the one that came before us, that there are things that are unacceptable,” Pompeo said.
Unlike the previous administration’s “pivot to Asia,” Pompeo noted that the US under President Donald Trump has increased its capacity and is more “engaged” in the disputed waters.
“I haven’t met anyone in Asia that believes there was a pivot from the previous administration. But today they can see we are more engaged. We’re there. We’re not only attending meetings but we’re acting. We’re active. Our military is active. They are doing freedom of navigation operations that we didn’t do before. Our diplomats are there, engaged in ways that they weren’t before. I’m confident that we can avoid that kind of conflict,” the US top diplomat explained.
Pompeo made this assessment as a bipartisan group of US senators seek to reintroduce a piece of legislation that would allow its government to sanction Chinese individuals and groups involved in Beijing’s activity in the South and East China Seas.
Sponsored by Republican Senators Marco Rubio (Florida) and Tom Cotton (Arkansas), and Democratic Senator Ben Cardin (Maryland) – The South China Sea and East China Sea Sanctions Act was aimed to pressure Beijing to cease its enforcement of territorial claims in the vast sea lanes.
The legislation – if signed into law – would compel the government to seize US-based financial assets and revoke or deny US visas of any individual involved in “actions or policies that threaten the peace, security or stability” in areas claimed by one or more members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
The Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia have overlapping claims over the South China Sea.
Reports have indicated that the proposed 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” and at the same time, “reiterates America’s commitment to keeping the region free and open for all countries.”