The incident in which a Chinese vessel rammed and sank a Vietnamese fishing boat on Monday is obviously unacceptable and at high risk of not only loss of property but loss of life, U.S. Senator Benjamin Cardin told reporters at a press conference in Hanoi on Wednesday.
Benjamin Cardin is now head of U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
Press: You know that there are so many new actions from China in the recent days, so could you tell me what the U.S. and international community will do to maintain peace in the East Sea now?
Senator Cardin: Your question on the maritime security issue is very much on the mind of my visit. From here I will leave Vietnam. I will be traveling to Singapore for the Shangri-La Security Dialogue. I can assure you the maritime security issues will be one of the principal areas of my discussion.
The United States opposes the unilateral provocative action undertaken by China in the East Sea. Our policies concerning maritime security are well known, in that we believe they must be peacefully resolved. We expect the countries to refrain from provocative action. We would hope that they would deescalate and use international forums, such as that provided under the Conventional Law of the Sea, to support ASEAN’s efforts to have a Code of Conduct, and to do direct diplomacy rather than trying to take provocative action. So this unilateral provocative action by China has created a very high tense circumstance in which we are very concerned. It affects more than the security of Vietnam, but it affects the regional maritime issues which are of interest to the United States and the global community.
Press: What is the U.S. government’s view [make it clear] with the Chinese authorities about refraining from provocative actions? And in which you call on the [Red Congress] to have a resolution on the matter. I just wonder what are the issues. Thank you.
Senator Cardin: Thank you very much. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee which I serve on has considered a resolution that I am one of the authors of that spells out pretty much what I just said in response to the first question, that we believe that we are opposed to unilateral provocative action in regards to maritime issues, and that China’s taking this action to us was wrong, and the resolution speaks to that. It also speaks that this matter should be resolved through peaceful means, direct negotiations between the parties, and I personally, as I’ve already expressed, would encourage claims to be pursued according to international law and according to established mechanisms that are available and not by unilateral action. That resolution underscores those points. The resolution has been approved by the Committee and we expect it to be on the Floor of the Senate shortly for consideration.
Press: Hello, Senator. Can you tell us how this crisis has affected relations between the United States and Vietnam, and whether you see any progress in relations between the two countries?
Senator Cardin: I think we’re going to be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the normalization of relations between Vietnam and the United States. We have entered into strategic partnerships including most recently the meetings that have taken place between our two countries. So there’s been a continuous path of strengthening the strategic ties between Vietnam and the United States. We’re currently working on a TPP, a trade agreement that includes Vietnam. We exchange delegations dealing with human rights and good governance. So there’s been a strong path towards a closer tie between our two countries.
As we make progress on the economic front, as we make progress on the political, good governance and human rights front, we also are getting closer on dealing with security issues that affect both countries such as maritime security issues. So there are continuous discussions as to how we can enhance the relationship in a way that’s mutually beneficial for both countries, and those discussions are ongoing on all facets.
I want to just underscore, our role in our rebalance to Asia is for Vietnam to be a strong, vibrant, independent country. We believe that’s important for regional stability as well as advancing U.S. vital interests in this region.
Press: In your coming trip to Shangri-La do you have any plan to meet with the Chinese representatives to talk about escalating issues in the East Sea? And the meeting between only U.S. and Chinese representatives, you are [inaudible]?
Senator Cardin: I clearly will be meeting and talking with Madame [Fu], who the two of us are on a panel together on this issue involving security issues. So clearly the two of us will have a chance to exchange views. I look forward to it. I met with Madame [Fu] when I was in Beijing a year ago so we know each other. I look forward to dialogue with China.
Our rebalance to Asia is to create stronger alliances or stronger ties with all countries including China. We want China also to be a strong independent country. So yes, I hope I’ll have the chance to underscore the importance of deescalating, not escalating, maritime tensions.
Press: I’d like to have a question for you frankly. How could you see and describe the action that Chinese ship rammed and sank a Vietnam fishing boat two days ago? And secondly, did you have, does the Vietnamese side seek any advice from you about suing China in international court? And if so, what is your advice to them? Thank you.
Senator Cardin: They did not seek my advice, so I don’t have an answer to the legal issues of the responsibility for damages. As I understand it the incident you’re referring to occurred many miles from the oil rig itself, and it caused a vessel to be sunk. That’s obviously unacceptable and at high risk of not only loss of property but loss of life. So we for many reasons but including this, believe it’s important to deescalate not escalate circumstances where life can be lost.
Let me underscore, you’ve heard U.S. officials say this in the past but let me just underscore it again. We don’t take a position, the United States does not take a position in regards to the territorial claims that are being made but we do take a position against unilateral provocative action and we do believe that there are mechanisms available to try to resolve differences among countries as it relates to territorial or material claims. Use those mechanisms, get involved in direct dialogue in a peaceful way, but don’t escalate unilateral provocative action.
Press: [Through Interpreter]. I would like to ask a question about the East Sea. Recently some commentators say that the reason why China has acted like what we have seen is that they see that the U.S. is busy with other matters and because the U.S. is lacking resources. So China does some action in order to send a message and to test the U.S.. What do you think about that?
Senator Cardin: I don’t quite follow the question. I understand what you said but I don’t quite follow that.
The United States has been very consistent in our criticism of the action done by China. We have been very consistent about our policies as it relates to maritime security issues. There are areas outside of Vietnam and China that we have raised on a consistent basis on maritime issues. We are very supportive of ASEAN Code of Conduct (COC) as it relates to maritime disputes. So I think the United States has been very consistent and very strong in the policy that these issues need to be resolved peacefully, about provocative individual action and we will continue to take a very active role in making that clear at every opportunity that we have