US Bill seeks tougher action against South China Sea build-up

US senators have tabled a Bill calling for stronger action by Washington to check China's assertive moves in the South China Sea.

"For too long, as China continues its aggressive and expansive policies, the United States has played the role of observer, or perhaps protester, but not yet actor," said Senator Robert Menendez in a statement introducing the Bill, reported the Foreign Policy magazine on its website on Wednesday. He was one of four senators from both sides of the aisle who introduced the legislation.

If passed, the Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Initiative Act would require the administration to report to Congress on plans for freedom of navigation operations and China's activities in the contested waters, said the magazine.

It would also raise the status of the Philippines under the rules for US security assistance, allowing the country to receive more sophisticated military hardware.

The Philippines is one of four Asean countries that have overlapping territorial claims with China and has filed a petition with an international tribunal against the legality of China's claims to almost the entire South China Sea.

With a ruling expected by early June, "now is the time for the United States and our regional and global partners to take clear and concrete measures to support a rules-based order for the Asia-Pacific region", said Senator Ben Cardin in a statement.

China has refused to take part in the tribunal process and has said it will not accept the ruling. It has also been building artificial islands, big enough to accommodate military airstrips, in reefs it controls.

US warships have been sailing close to islands China controls to challenge its claims, in freedom of navigation operations, and the senators want these stepped up.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2016, with the headline 'US Bill seeks tougher action against S. China Sea build-up'. Print Edition | Subscribe