US needs to be active in East Sea dispute

Published: 18/06/2011 05:00



Senator Jim Webb, Chairman, Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs, U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations had a talks on the US’ foreign policy in Asia in Washington on June 14.

Below is transcript of part of the talks.

A series of recent events have given cause for, I think, a lot of concerns from the United States’ perspective and from the perspective of many other countries in East Asia with respect to the stability of the region. We all know when the Soviet Union fell, with the advancement of the Chinese economy and other influence in the region, specifically a growing and more sophisticated military that we’re seeing especially in naval activities and the distraction of the United States after 9/11 with respect to our positions in Asia causing many of these relationships to take a back burner to some of the more immediate and emotional issues in Iraq, Afghanistan, et cetera, we have been working, I think, very hard over the past — particularly over the past five years, I think, to turn this around, to make sure that the countries in the region — all the countries in the region — know how important the involvement of the United States is, for us and for them and for the health and the viability of even countries that we may be sort of competing with on one level, in terms of maintaining this kind of stability.

It’s very important, as everyone in this room I’m sure knows, for the United States to maintain our influence, our strategic partnerships, economically, culturally and militarily. I mentioned to Jim when we talked last week that I would like to address briefly three different areas where I believe that the United States needs to focus and to remain strong.

The first is in our basing systems in East Asia and specifically the adjustment of our basing systems in Japan and in — specifically there, the Okinawa and the proposal to move some of our bases down to Guam. Ironically, I first started working on that issue in 1973. I worked as a military planner out on Guam, taking a look at all of the military lands on Guam, Tinian, Saipan, up in Okinawa, and wrote a military land use study in terms of how the United States could adjust our military presence and still remain strong in this region and maintain our communications with other countries that we intend to remain in the region.

What is being proposed — what has been proposed and debated for the last 15 years has, in a very serious way, caused domestic difficulties in the political situation on Japan itself because of the inability of both governments to actually implement a plan that they had agreed upon. I went to Tokyo, Okinawa, Guam, Tinian and Saipan about a year and a half ago — nearly a year and a half ago — and examined the mechanics of what they were proposing and came back with some recommendations. Chairman Levin on the Armed Services Committee looked at this, and we both returned in April and had more discussions.

And we came forward with a proposal that I believe is a workable proposal that would be able to be implemented in a shorter period of time with less money and would retain the viability of our presence in this part of the world. There’s been some debate on this, but I just wanted to lay it out, since there has been debate on this, that I believe that we can come up with an answer. Senator McCain joined us. So Senator McCain, Senator Levin — the chairman and the ranking Republican on the Armed Services committee both joining in on this proposal. And I think that resolving this in a timely way will strengthen our defense posture in that part of the world.

The other two issues that I believe the United States needs to remain very strong and active on are the sovereignty issues in the South China Sea (East Sea) and what, for lack of a better term, could be called the water sovereignty issues on the Southeast Asian mainland. And we have worked from our office on both of these issues very vigorously. For many years — those of you who are active in the region know this — there have been a series of spats, for lack of a better term, military spats where the Chinese have claimed sovereignty in a wide area, geographic area, very far away from the Chinese mainland — the Spratley Islands, the Paracels. They’ve become more vigorous over the past year and a half than they have been in a very long time.

About 14 or 15 months ago, they had an incident with the Japanese in the Senkaku Islands, which have — are legally administered by the Japanese. Like many island areas in this region, they’re claimed by China, Taiwan and Japan, but they are legally administered by the Japanese — has caused a two or three-week serious diplomatic row between the two countries. I looked at that, and actually, I have to say I went back to my campaign — my Senate campaign in ’06 when, in my last debate with my opponent, we were allowed to ask each other one question. And I asked him, what do you think we should do about the Senkaku Islands? (Laughter.) And there was an interesting moment, and I could see the — behind the audience, there was the media room, and all of the computers lit up. I could see the reporters out there Googling “Senkaku Islands” — (laughter) — know what I’m saying?

But it’s a very — you know, it’s a very serious and ongoing issue, and it erupted about a year ago. We’ve seen a similar problem with sovereignty issues with the use of Chinese military — or maritime security vessels in the Philippines. And then very disturbingly, between May 26th and June 9th, we saw two of these incidents with maritime security vessels combined with sophisticated fishing vessels in waters that are within the internationally recognized economic zone of Vietnam.

I intend to introduce a resolution later today calling on the Chinese to cease these types of military actions and to come to the table in a multilateral way and work to solve these sovereignty issues. I think we in our government have taken too weak of a position on this when we say the United States’ government doesn’t have a position on sovereignty issues.

Not taking a position is taking a position. We should be working in a multilateral forum to solve these problems. These are not only security issues; there’s a lot of economic future out there in those waters, and we need to do our part as a balancing force to bring these issues to the table.

There’s a similar problem with respect to water sovereignty issues on the Southeast Asian mainland. The most graphic example of that the Mekong River delta. Everyone who looks at this region, and particularly at China, knows that there are serious water problems in the region. Water is going to be — or the proper resolution of water issues is going to be an issue equally as strong, I believe, as these sovereignty issues out here.

We’ve worked from our office very hard on this. I think Secretary Clinton has worked very hard on our Mekong River initiative. And actually, when I leave this meeting today, I’m going to be meeting with the Mekong River Commission delegation that has come here to the United States.

But again, this is an issue where — for instance, with the Mekong River, in the lower Mekong we have about 70 million people whose livelihoods and environmental health as they know it today are being threatened by hydroelectric dams that are being built upriver, that is drawing down the water flow, increasing the salinity and seriously threatening the historic manner in which these people have lived.

It’s made more complicated by two realities. The first is, China is one of the few countries in the world that does not recognize downstream water rights — riparian water rights. So there is no commonality for discussion. Then the second is, China on these types of issues prefers to deal in a bilateral way rather than a multilateral way. And there’s no country in this downstream part of Southeast Asia that has the power to come to the table face to face simply with China and talk about water rights.

So again, it’s a very important issue for us as the United States to step forward in a way to provide leadership and to bring multilateral solutions to problems that could have extreme difficulties in the future if they’re not dealt with.

So our purpose — our future in the region is to encourage multilateral engagement — I believe the growth of ASEAN has been one of the most encouraging signs that I’ve seen over the past 10 years — of 650 million people in the ASEAN countries; they are — they are becoming much more important in different diplomatic and economic formulas in the region — and to make sure that other countries in the region know, as Secretary Clinton and Secretary Gates both said last year, that we are not only going to stay involved in this region, but to increase our involvement because it is in the vital interests of the United States and to the benefit of the other countries in the region.

Source: Cfr

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