State Assistant Secretary David Stilwell in the testimony on September 18. Photo: Senate.gov
Chinese activities aim to keep Vietnam and other ASEAN states away from developing oil and gas resources in the South China Sea, David Stilwell said at in a testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on September 18.
“Through repeated illegal actions and militarization of disputed features, Beijing has and continues to take actions to prevent ASEAN members from accessing over US$2.5 trillion in recoverable energy reserves,” he said.
The assistant secretary said in highlighting the role of the committee and EAP in advancing the White House’s Indo-Pacific strategy, saying that the US approach recognizes the region’s central global importance and central role in American foreign policy, as underscored by the President’s National Security Strategy.
China’s increasing aggression
Vietnam's oil operations within Vietnamese exclusive economic zone that partly harassed by China. Photo: Rosneft
China’s expanding its strategic influence in the Indo-Pacific, David Stilwell noted.
“As the President’s National Security Strategy makes clear, we are especially concerned by Beijing’s use of market-distorting economic inducements and penalties, influence operations, and intimidation to persuade other states to heed its political and security agenda,” he said.
“Beijing’s pursuit of a repressive alternative vision for the Indo-Pacific seeks to reorder the region in its favor and has put China in a position of strategic competition with all who seek to preserve a free and open order of sovereign, diverse nations,” Stilwell said.
China acts in a manner that undermines principles of international best practices such as transparency, responsible lending, and sustainable environmental practices, he added.
Meanwhile Beijing’s military modernization continues at a break neck pace. Its exercises in the region are increasingly complex and clearly intended not only to deter US efforts but to signal to other countries, the assistant secretary said.
Chinese Liaoning aircraft carrier and escorts in drills in the South China Sea in April 2018. Photo: Reuters
US increasing involvement in the region
The Trump Administration’s approach involves a range of elements namely economic pillar, governance, and security.
With respect to the economic pillar of the Indo-Pacific Strategy, the State Department is focusing on three main areas: infrastructure, energy, and the digital economy together with promoting open markets; high standards and transparency; and free, fair, and reciprocal trade.
In terms of governance, they seek to build capacity for good governance and adherence to international law, rules, and standards.
On the security front, the aim is to build a flexible, resilient network of like-minded security partners to promote regional stability; ensure freedom of navigation, and other lawful uses of the sea; and address shared challenges in the region.
Notably, the recent visits to the region given by the US State Secretary Mike Pompeo and Assistant Secretary David Stilwell have reinforced these elements.
The secretary participated in several ASEAN-related meetings namely the US–ASEAN Ministerial, ASEAN Foreign Ministers and the 10th anniversary of the Lower Mekong Initiative that welcomed a US-proposed leaders’ statement on energy security, increased US economic investment, energy and transnational crime programs.
“At the East Asia Summit Ministerial, the Secretary made a clear statement on China’s bullying in the South China Sea and urged ASEAN and China to move forward with a meaningful Code of Conduct that comports with UNCLOS,” he added.
The secretary also traveled to Sydney where they deepened coordination with Australia across the Indo-Pacific and beyond.
In a visit to Indonesia, the assistant secretary reaffirmed their strong political, security and economic relations, and spoke with alumni of US-sponsored exchange programs from across Southeast Asia. He also met with the ASEAN Secretary General to reiterate the importance of ASEAN to our Indo-Pacific vision.
But where China acts in a manner that undermines these principles, the US is “compelled to respond,” David Stilwell emphasized.