US could apply sanctions for ‘illegal’ South China Sea claims, senior diplomat says

US could apply sanctions for ‘illegal’ South China Sea claims, senior diplomat says

  • ‘This is a language the Chinese understand – demonstrative and tangible action,’ says senior diplomat
  • The comments follow an announcement Monday that the US will take a tougher line in the contested region

The United States could apply sanctions on Chinese officials and companies that pursue “illegal” claims in the South China Sea, the nation’s senior East Asia diplomat said on Tuesday. This follows the announcements in recent weeks of sanctions against those involved in cracking down on Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

“Nothing is off the table,” said David Stilwell, US assistant secretary of state for East Asia. “There is room for that. This is a language the Chinese understand – demonstrative and tangible action.”Stilwell’s comments follow an announcement on Monday that the US will take a tougher line in the contested region, variously claimed by China, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan, in a bid to check China’s expanding footprint. The maritime region is rich in mineral deposits, seafood, strategic sea lanes and untapped oil, estimated at 11 billion barrels.

Stilwell, speaking at a conference sponsored by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said Beijing’s behaviour in the South China Sea – including strong-arm tactics against smaller nations and defiance of international treaties – has implications far beyond the region as China’s influence expands globally.

“You could be a university student in Australia, a book publisher in Europe or the general manager of an NBA [National Basketball Association] franchise in Houston. You might work for an international hotel chain, a German car company, or a US airline,” he said. “Wherever you are, Beijing increasingly wants to stake claims, coerce, and control.

“These are gangster tactics,” he added.

On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of senior congressional representatives on the powerful Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs committees voiced strong support for the US shift.