Press Release

April 27, 2016
Cardin, Gardner, Menendez, Schatz Introduce Asia-Pacific Maritime Legislation to Enhance U.S. Regional Leadership, Support Allies

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ranking Member of both the Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) and the SFRC East Asia Subcommittee, Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Chairman of the SFRC East Asia Subcommittee, Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), a senior member of the SFRC, and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) introduced legislation Wednesday to enhance American maritime capacity and leadership and increase support to our allies in the Asia-Pacific region.


The Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Initiative Act of 2016 clarifies American policy and commitments in the region, and aligns diplomatic and military resources and activities to support greater maritime domain awareness, institutional architecture, and partner capacity building efforts.  


“The United States and our allies and partners face new, critical challenges in the maritime domains of the Asia-Pacific region. China’s provocative actions in the South China Sea, including its aggressive island-building campaign, threaten not just regional stability but long-standing U.S. interests in the free-flow of commerce, freedom of navigation, and the peaceful resolution of disputes consistent with international law. China is of course not unique in its actions, which have complicated efforts to resolve conflicting claims diplomatically or legally, but the quantity, scope, and scale of its activities have a quality all their own,” Senator Cardin said.

China’s ongoing reclamation activities and militarization of the South China Sea threatens regional stability and represents a clear and fundamental challenge to the international law,” Senator Gardner said. “We must be committed to standing with our allies in opposition to Beijing’s activities and also standing for international law and freedom of navigation in one of the world’s most strategically and commercially important waterways. The Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Initiative Act codifies United States policy that our military will routinely enforce our freedom of navigation rights, we will stand up for international law, and we will provide our partners the resources and training they need to protect their maritime domains. This legislation is a significant step toward protecting U.S. economic, diplomatic, and military interests in the region, and I urge my colleagues to support it.

“For too long as China continues its aggressive and expansive policies, the United States has played the role of observer, or perhaps protestor, but not yet actor,” Senator Menendez said.  “With this legislation, we offer this new way forward:  challenge the Government of China on its destabilizing policies in the region, assert legal and rightful international authority over maritime boundaries, and send a signal to our friends and allies in the region that the international community – led by the United States – will no longer tolerate China’s efforts to militarize its foreign policy.”


“China’s ongoing actions to unilaterally redraw the region’s maritime borders exacerbates the risks of misperceptions and conflict,” Senator Schatz said. “Our bipartisan legislation helps align our diplomatic and military efforts so that we can continue to work with our partners and allies across the Pacific to strengthen our commitment to regional peace and stability.”

The legislation:


  • Authorizes the Secretary of State to provide Foreign Military Financing assistance and International Military and Education Training activities in the Asia-Pacific for maritime security capacity building;
  • Authorizes appropriations for the State Department’s Southeast Asia Maritime Law Enforcement Initiative;
  • Authorizes the Secretary of Defense, in concurrence with the Secretary of State, to provide assistance for the purpose of increasing maritime security and domain awareness for countries in the Asia-Pacific region;
  • Upgrades the Philippines’ military procurement status to the same level that our closest allies enjoy under U.S. law;
  • Prioritizes Asia-Pacific regional allies and maritime ASEAN member states for the transfer of excess defense articles: and
  • Requires the administration to report on plans for freedom of navigation assertions, maritime security partner capacity building and China’s activities in the South China Sea.


Full text of the legislation can be found here.


With a landmark decision soon to be made by the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea in the case of the Philippines versus China, 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,” Cardin added.