Earlier this week, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced a bill in the Senate Foreign Relations committee that proposes punitive sanctions against China over its activities in maritime disputes in the East Sea (South China Sea) and the East China Sea.
The bill, called the “South China Sea and East China Sea Sanctions Act of 2016” , proffers a plan to sanction Chinese individuals and entities “that participate in Beijing’s illegitimate operations in the East Sea and East China Sea,” according to a release by Rubio’s office.
China’s aggressive actions in the East Sea are illegitimate and threaten the region’s security and American commerce, with reverberations that can be felt here at home, including Florida’s ports and throughout our state’s shipping and cargo economy,” Rubio noted. “The security of our allies in the region and our own economic livelihoods cannot be endangered by Beijing’s ongoing, flagrant violations of international norms in its pursuit of dominance in the East Sea and East China Sea.”
|U.S. Senator Marco Rubio.
The bill would represent an ambitious change in U.S. policy. If it becomes law, it would require the U.S. president to execute a range of punitive sanctions against Chinese individuals and entities for activities in the East Sea and in turn sanction third-party financial institutions that interact with those entities knowingly. Rubio’s proposals also contain important changes to U.S. policy, such as restricting foreign aid to states that may side with China’s position on disputes in the East Sea and East China Sea and, more importantly, shifting the long-standing U.S. position on not taking sides in questions of territorial sovereignty in maritime disputes (with some exceptions).
Interestingly, Rubio’s proposal may have the effect of turning the proposed sanctions regime into the de facto enforcement tool for the July 12, 2016, international ruling by a five-judge tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which unanimously ruled in favor of almost all of the Philippines’ submissions against China in a 2013 case concerning their disputes in the Spratly Islands.
In line with the Obama administration’s policy, Rubio’s proposed bill acknowledges the July 12 ruling and describes it as “final and binding” under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Both China and the Philippines have signed and ratified the convention while the United States has not ratified it, even though it treats UNCLOS as the basis of customary international law and the U.S. Navy abides by the agreement in practice. Though ratification would fall to the Senate, this is not something that was proposed by Rubio as a corollary to this bill that otherwise appears to place great value on the findings of the tribunal.