WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the leading Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, made the following remarks on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives in support of H.Res. 714, condemning aggressive actions and calling for peaceful resolution to disputes in the East and South China Seas:
“Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of H.Res. 714, and yield myself as much time as I may consume.
“Let me start by thanking my colleague from American Samoa, Mr. Faleomavaega, for authoring this resolution. And let me also thank him for his many years of distinguished service here in Congress. It’s especially moving for me, because Eni and I were both elected to Congress that first time on the same day and started to serve the first day elected in November of 1988 and we both served starting January 3rd, 1989. And as the jargon is here in Washington, we are classmates. And we’ve sat next to each other on the Foreign Affairs Committee for so many years, all those years, and had good chance to travel together and to have our families get to know each other, our spouses, our wives. It really has been a pleasure to be a friend and a colleague of Mr. Faleomavaega’s. We’re going to really miss him but I know he will grace our presence and come back and visit. And so this is really a tribute, this is an important resolution. It’s important for its substance but it’s also important because I look at it as a tribute to Eni Faleomavaega, my colleague, my friend, a really great human being, great American, great person representing American Samoa for so many years. So thank you, Eni.
“As both the Chairman and the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, throughout the years, Mr. Faleomavaega was focused on US policy involving the Asia Pacific region. He was focused on this policy long before anyone decided we needed a ‘pivot’ or ‘rebalance’ to the region. Eni always knew, and knows, that Asia is important, and that the United States, as a Pacific power, has a vital role to play. The measure we’re considering today reaffirms our strong support for a peaceful resolution to disputes in the South China Sea and East China Sea. It calls on all parties to reduce tensions, manage disputes peacefully, and adhere to international law. And it encourages our own government to keep working with allies and partners, helping expand their ability to keep an eye on their own maritime domains.
“The United States, as I mentioned before, is a Pacific power. We have a vital interest in freedom of navigation and overflight in these disputed areas, which are vital to economic security and lawful commerce in the region. These are universal rights. I want to repeat that, these are universal rights. Not rights granted by some states to others. Not rights that China thinks it can dominate and be aggressive in terms of claiming the seas as its own even though many of those seas are literally thousands of miles away from mainland China. Tensions in the East and South China Seas have been steadily increasing for the last several years. Provocations have become bolder and more frequent, and little progress has been made on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea to establish rules of the road among claimants.
“When I went there more than a year ago with Chairman Royce we were told by the Government of the Philippines and Japan that they were very very concerned with what China has been doing and claiming.
“But the United States does not take sides in these disputes. We believe that they should be resolved diplomatically and without force or coercion. Territorial claims—and arbitration of those claims—should be based in international law.
“There have been some hopeful signs: Japan and Taiwan have worked out an agreement related to fishing rights. China and Vietnam have begun discussions on how to reduce tensions between their respective navies. In advance of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, called APEC, the Summit and bilateral meetings, Japan and China decided to ‘agree to disagree’ on the issue of the Senkaku Islands. They are now looking for other ways to expand their diplomatic, political, and security ties despite their differences. In addition, the President announced during his recent visit to Beijing that the United States and China agreed to a range of maritime confidence-building measures. We will continue working to expand this cooperation into airspace next year. These developments are positive, and should continue in earnest, but they are not enough.
“H.Res. 714 urges all parties to stay focused on this progress, and to continue working for a peaceful resolution of maritime disputes in areas that are vitally important to continued economic development, peace, and security of the Asia Pacific region. Mr. Speaker, I urge all of my colleagues to support this resolution, and I reserve the balance of my time.”
Watch Rep. Engel's floor remarks here