Sen. Marco Rubio suggested in an interview last week that the U.S. should seek to “destroy” China’s new military outposts on various disputed island territories throughout the South China Sea.
The senator said that neutralizing China’s dominance in the region is critically important to securing the world’s most widely utilized shipping lanes.
“If they’ve created a missile base that we can destroy, because we can position enough assets in the region that can penetrate defenses and destroy it, then we have neutralized that advantage,” Rubio said, the Washington Examiner reported.
Rubio’s comments come at a time of heightened tensions in the region, as China not only continues to advance its military interests against its neighbors, but also against the U.S.
China claims countless disputed territories throughout the South China Sea and has recently resorted to installing missile defense systems and runways outfitted with various military aircraft. While China says that these new bases are strictly to ensure safety at sea, navigation assistance, and search and rescue, U.S. officials – including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis – say the various equipment is only for military use.
“Despite China’s claims to the contrary, the placement of these weapons systems is tied directly to military use for the purposes of intimidation and coercion,” Mattis said during a foreign policy conference in Singapore on Saturday. “China’s militarization of the Spratlys [islands] is also in direct contradiction to President Xi’s 2015 public assurances in the White House Rose Garden that they would not do this.”
China’s militarization of the region and blatant disregard of the rules suggests that it is time for the U.S. to take a stand, Rubio said.
“There has to be a point here where it’s too far,” said Rubio, who also sits on the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees. “We’re not unnecessarily seeking conflict, and there’s a way to avoid it, and that is to respect the rules. But at some point, we’re going to have to either enforce these rules or we’re going to live in a world that they dominate. And that’s what they’re counting on is that we don’t have the stomach for it. And, in fact, if they conclude we don’t have the stomach for it, they’re likelier to do it.”
China continues to call out the U.S. Navy, which regularly conducts Freedom of Navigation Operations in internationals waters, much to the dismay of Beijing.
The Chinese military often encroaches on U.S. ships when they sail too close to certain territories, leading to minor conflicts, some of which have been deemed as unprofessional.
“[C]ertain people in the U.S. are staging a farce of a thief crying ‘stop thief,’” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said last week. “The U.S. warships deliberately trespassed into the neighboring waters of China’s relevant islands or reefs from time to time. They prettify it as ‘freedom of navigation operation.’ Does the U.S. truly want the freedom of navigation entitled under the international law? Or does it just want the freedom to do whatever it likes as a hegemon?”
Rubia stressed that the South China Sea conflict is not a means of putting China in a corner, but instead ensuring that China treats its neighbors with respect and cooperates with the U.S.
“This is not about limiting China; this is about protecting the balance between us,” Rubio said. “China has no history, now or as part of their long-term political civilization, of treating smaller states with equality or with cooperation. In fact, their history and even their practices today tend towards treating smaller, weaker states as tributary states, subservient to China’s interest.”