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Senators mull response to China's moves in disputed islands

Senators mull response to China's moves in disputed islands

Senators are grappling with how, or even if, the United States should respond to the Chinese government building a runway potentially for military use on disputed land in the South China Sea.

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Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain: Harris 'sounded like a moron' discussing immigration Arizona AG Mark Brnovich launches Senate challenge to Mark Kelly Arizona Democrats launch voter outreach effort ahead of key Senate race MORE (R-Ariz.) said the White House should focus on strengthening ties to allies in the region by providing additional military equipment to their navies.

President Obama and other leaders should “start drawing lines and saying, ‘Look, this is not acceptable,’” he said late Monday.

Late last week, satellite imagery revealed that China is building a possibly 10,000-foot-long runway capable of handling military aircraft in Fiery Cross Reef, part of the Spratly Islands, which are claimed by at least three other countries.

McCain also advocated for passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a sweeping 12-nation trade compact, to counter China's influence with its trading partners in the area.

“We’ll never get the genie back in the bottle, but it will be vital,” he told The Hill.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  MORE (R-Tenn.) also said the trade deal would be a good start to responding China's actions.

“Get this TPP thing done so we at least begin on an economic front doing some things,” he said late Monday.

Corker added that Asian countries must do more to confront Beijing’s “destabilizing” behavior.

“We got to the conferences that they hold but there needs to be a much more organized pushback in the international community, it’s just not occurring right now,” he said.

While senators are unsure what the U.S. response should look like, they agree China’s moves are provocative.

“Right now, I don’t think there’s any specific reaction or action,” said Sen. Angus KingAngus KingHillicon Valley: Big Tech critic Lina Khan named chair of the FTC | Lawmakers urge Biden to be tough on cyber during summit with Putin | TSA working on additional security regulations following Colonial Pipeline hack Senate Armed Services member: Administration should have 'hair on fire' over Afghan interpreters Senators introducing B bill to help narrow digital divide MORE (I-Maine), a member of the Armed Services and Intelligence panels.

“It’s something that has to be monitored and it’s a matter of determining what China’s intent is” and whether Beijing is trying to expand its sphere of influence or taking aggressive action against neighboring countries like Vietnam and the Philippines, he told The Hill on Tuesday.

“It is of concern, but on the other hand, we don’t want to overreact,” King added. “This is the kind of thing that goes on around the world in terms of border disputes.”

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said late Monday that China’s action proves that Obama’s push to focus on Asia “has to be fully resourced.”

“This just shows that it’s necessary for the United States to maintain its posture and its presence in the Asia-Pacific region, especially as it relates to the South China Sea,” according to Schatz.

The "pivot" of U.S. military forces away from Europe and the Middle East toward the Pacific has been a major strategic goal for the Obama administration. The strategy is widely viewed as a means to counter China’s rapidly expanding military and belligerence in North Korea.

Nevertheless, U.S. military operations in Iraq, talks over Iran’s nuclear program and Russia’s aggressive behavior toward Ukraine have overshadowed the effort.