South China Sea

U.S. says sanctions for China over South China Sea aggression ‘not off the table’

Sofia Tomacruz
U.S. says sanctions for China over South China Sea aggression ‘not off the table’

SUBI REEF. This photo shows the artificial island on Subi Reef in the West Philippine Sea as of December 7, 2017


US Assistant Secretary of State David Stillwell cites China's efforts to use state-owned enterprises as 'tools of economic coercion and international abuse' in the South China Sea and other areas

The United States on Tuesday, July 14, said that sanctions against Chinese officials and state-owned entities were “not off the table” as Washington sought to take a stronger position against Beijing’s aggression in the South China Sea. 

US East Asia and Pacific Affairs Assistant Secretary of State David Stillwell made the statement on Tuesday night (Manila time), during the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ 10th South China Sea forum. 

Stillwell was asked about the possibility of sanctions in relation to the US’ recent move announcing China’s expansive maritime claims across most of the South China Sea as “completely unlawful.” The announcement was the strongest and most explicit support by Washington of the 2016 Hague ruling, which the Philippines won against China. 

“Nothing’s off the table,” Stillwell said.

In his keynote remarks, Stillwell took up China’s efforts to use state-owned enterprises “as tools of economic coercion and international abuse” in the South China Sea and other areas.

He cited the state-owned China Construction & Communications Corporation (CCCC), which was reported to have been involved in China’s reclamation of maritime features in the South China Sea, and its construction of military bases on features that were part of Southeast Asian states’ exclusive economic zones. 

CCCC’s operations were shown to have led to massive environmental damage in some of the world’s richest fishing grounds. 

“So absolutely, there is room for that…. I really hope that folks who are interested…in the environmental damage, massive scale, of undersea reefs, fisheries, and all those things, find their voice and also resist this sort of activity. It can’t continue, so yes, there is room for that,” Stillwell said. 

Over the last few weeks, the US has imposed sanctions over China’s controversial policies in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. China responded by imposing retaliatory sanctions and called on the US to “stop interfering” with its affairs. 

China reiterated this as the US announced developments in its policy on the South China Sea, saying in a statement that the US “exaggerates the situation in the region and attempts to sow discord between China and other littoral countries.”

Stillwell said the US’ move “should not be seen as…provocative or anything other than insisting the PRC (Peoples’ Republic of China) live up to its claims and its agreements.”

“We’re simply making words and deeds match, and that’s pretty straightforward,” he said. –

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at