WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today made the following statement regarding recent U.S. Navy exercises near disputed areas in the South China Sea:


“Freedom of navigation is a basic principle of international law followed by civilian and military mariners across the globe, and while the United States does not take a position on sovereignty claims in the South China Sea, we do take a position on the importance of this principle and will stand up for it on the global stage.  By claiming disputed islands and marine features hundreds of miles from its shores, China undermines international law, threatens regional stability, and disrupts lawful commerce that drives growth and progress for our allies and partners in Asia.


“Now, the Chinese government is calling foul over the United States Navy’s completely lawful passage within twelve nautical miles of one of these disputed islands. This reaction only clarifies China’s intent to flout international law and validates regional concerns about China’s militarization of these reclaimed territories. Our Navy should be conducting regular, lawful, and peaceful operations regardless of protests by China or any other government.  Likewise, China should not deter any other country from using the seas according to international law. Parties should expand dialogue on unplanned encounters at sea to avoid dangerous miscommunications.  At the same time governments should stand by the basic principles of sovereignty, international lawful commerce, and freedom of navigation.”