Protecting and Preserving a Free and Open South China Sea

Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State

The United States and all law-abiding nations share a deep interest in the preservation of a free and open South China Sea.  All nations, regardless of military and economic power, should be free to enjoy the rights and freedoms guaranteed to them under international law, as reflected in the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, without fear of coercion.

Today, the United States is taking additional actions to defend these rights and freedoms.  Pursuant to Section 212(a)(3)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the Department of State is imposing visa restrictions on People’s Republic of China (PRC) individuals, including executives of state-owned enterprises and officials of the Chinese Communist Party and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy, responsible for, or complicit in, either the large-scale reclamation, construction, or militarization of disputed outposts in the South China Sea, or the PRC’s use of coercion against Southeast Asian claimants to inhibit their access to offshore resources in the South China Sea.  Immediate family members may be subject to these visa restrictions as well.

In addition, the Department of Commerce has added China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) Limited to the Entity List in light of its role in the PRC’s campaign of coercion against other claimants of an estimated $2.5 trillion in South China Sea oil and gas resources. The Chinese Communist Party has used CNOOC and other state enterprises as weapons to attempt to enforce Beijing’s unlawful “Nine Dashed Line.” CNOOC used its mammoth survey rig HD-981 off the Paracel islands in 2014 in an attempt to intimidate Vietnam. CNOOC’s then-chief executive touted that oil rig as “mobile national territory.”

Beijing continues to send fishing fleets and energy survey vessels, along with military escorts, to operate in waters claimed by Southeast Asian nations and to harass claimant state oil and gas development in areas where it has failed to put forth a coherent, lawful maritime claim.

In a unanimous decision on July 12, 2016, an Arbitral Tribunal constituted under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention – to which the PRC is a state party – rejected the PRC’s South China Sea maritime claims as having no basis in international law.  Last July, the United States aligned our position on the PRC’s maritime claims in the South China Sea with key aspects of the Tribunal’s decision and affirmed once again that we reject the PRC’s unlawful maritime claims in the South China Sea.  We welcome the unprecedented number of countries that have formally protested these claims at the United Nations.

The United States stands with Southeast Asian claimant states seeking to defend their sovereign rights and interests, consistent with international law.  We will continue to act until we see Beijing cease its coercive behavior in the South China Sea.

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The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in consultation with Treasury, should issue timely guidance for auditing new and existing COVID-19-related programs, including Coronavirus Relief Fund payments, as soon as possible. Audits of entities that receive federal funds are critical to the federal government’s ability to help safeguard those funds.Also, Congress should amend the Social Security Act to explicitly allow the Social Security Administration to share its full death data with Treasury for data matching to prevent payments to ineligible individuals. GAO maintains that implementing these recommendations fully is critically important in order to protect federal funds from improper payments resulting from fraud and other risks. In this report, GAO also identifies new concerns about the timely reporting of improper payments for COVID-19 programs. 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In June 2020, GAO suggested that Congress take legislative action to require the Secretary of Transportation to work with relevant agencies, such as HHS, the Department of Homeland Security, and other stakeholders, to develop a national aviation-preparedness plan to limit the spread of communicable diseasethreats and minimize traveland trade impacts. GAO originally made this recommendation to the Department of Transportation in December 2015. GAO urges Congress to take swift action to require such a plan, without which the U.S. will not be as prepared to minimize and quickly respond to ongoing and future communicable disease events. As of November 12, 2020, the U.S. had over 10.3 million cumulative reported cases of COVID-19 and about 224,000 reported deaths, according to federal agencies. The country also continues to experience serious economic repercussions. Four relief laws, including the CARES Act, were enacted as of November 2020 to provide appropriations to address the public health and economic threats posed by COVID-19. As of September 30, 2020, of the $2.6 trillion appropriated by these acts, the federal government had obligated a total of $1.8 trillion and expended $1.6 trillion of the COVID-19 relief funds, as reported by federal agencies. The CARES Act included a provision for GAO to report on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report examines the federal government’s continued efforts to respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. GAO reviewed data, documents, and guidance from federal agencies about their activities and interviewed federal and state officials. GAO also sent a survey to public health and emergency management officials in the 50 states, Washington, D.C., and the five U.S. territories regarding medical supplies. GAO is making 11 new recommendations for agencies that are detailed in this Highlights and in the report. GAO is also raising one matter for congressional consideration. For more information, contact A. Nicole Clowers at (202)512-7114 or clowersa@gao.gov.
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  • General Aviation: Stakeholders Expressed Mixed Views of FAA Policies on Private Pilot Expense Sharing
    In U.S GAO News
    The Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) primary rationale for its policies on private pilots' sharing expenses with passengers is based on passenger expectations of safety. FAA policies allow private pilots to share the cost of certain flight expenses with passengers but prohibit these pilots from engaging in “common carriage,” which is communicating to the public a willingness to fly in exchange for compensation. These policies generally prohibit pilots from using the internet to find passengers. FAA officials said these policies are in place because they are concerned the public might expect a similar level of safety on private expense-sharing flights as commercial flights. However, the safety record of commercial aviation is better than that of private flying (general aviation). For example, according to data from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), commercial carriers had a fatal accident rate around 30 times lower than general aviation in 2018. FAA officials said their goal for FAA's 2020 guidance on expense sharing was to restate and clarify existing policies. Example of an Aircraft Private Pilots Could Use for Expense-Sharing Flights Stakeholders described benefits of expense sharing but expressed mixed views on FAA's policies and guidance. For example, stakeholders cited potential economic benefits to the general aviation sector and a potential expansion of the pool of future professional pilots as benefits of expense sharing. Most (eight of 13) stakeholders said FAA's 2020 guidance on expense-sharing is clear and provides sufficient information. However, some stakeholders said the guidance could provide more definitive examples of allowed expense-sharing flights, and others disagreed with how FAA defined certain concepts such as how pilots can be compensated for flying passengers. Also, stakeholders split on whether FAA should allow pilots to use the internet to find expense-sharing passengers. Seven of 15 stakeholders, including four representatives from companies with expense-sharing applications, said FAA should allow pilots to use the internet to find these passengers by citing, for example, ongoing positive experiences in Europe. However, eight stakeholders, including six of seven professional organizations, said FAA should not. These stakeholders cited safety-related risks of expense sharing including what they characterized as FAA's limited capacity to enforce current regulations and flights using less experienced pilots. Private flying is expensive, and FAA allows private pilots to reduce their costs by carrying passengers and sharing certain flight expenses with them. However, private pilots cannot engage in common carriage. If pilots do engage in common carriage, they are subject to FAA's more stringent regulations covering commercial air carriers. Some private pilots have sought to use internet applications to find expense-sharing passengers. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 directed FAA to issue advisory guidance clarifying how private pilots may share expenses. In February 2020, FAA released this guidance as an advisory circular. The Act also includes a provision for GAO to review FAA's policies on expense sharing. This report describes: (1) FAA's rationale for its policies on how private pilots may find expense-sharing passengers and (2) selected stakeholder perspectives on FAA's policies and the risks and benefits of arranging these expense-sharing flights online. GAO interviewed FAA officials on how FAA developed its policies and guidance related to expense sharing. GAO also reviewed FAA's data on enforcement actions related to expense sharing and safety data from NTSB. In addition, GAO interviewed a non-generalizable sample of 15 private-sector stakeholders, including professional organizations, such as trade groups representing general aviation pilots, companies that developed expense-sharing internet applications, and flying clubs. For more information, contact Heather Krause at (202) 512-2834 or krauseh@gao.gov.
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  • Indian Health Service: Actions Needed to Improve Oversight of Federal Facilities’ Decision-Making About the Use of Funds
    In U.S GAO News
    The Indian Health Service's (IHS) oversight of federally operated health care facilities' decision-making process about the use of funds has been limited and inconsistent. Funds include those from appropriations, as well as payments from federal programs, such as Medicaid and from private insurance, for care provided by IHS to American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN). While some oversight functions are performed at IHS headquarters, the agency has delegated primary responsibility for the oversight of health care facilities' decision-making about the use of funds to its area offices. Area office officials said the oversight they provide has generally included (1) reviewing facilities' scope of services, and (2) reviewing facilities' proposed expenditures. However, GAO's review found that this oversight was limited and inconsistent across IHS area offices, in part, due to a lack of consistent agency-wide processes. While IHS officials from all nine area offices GAO interviewed said they reviewed facilities' scope of services and coordinated with tribes when doing so, none reported systematically reviewing the extent to which their facilities' services were meeting local health needs, such as by incorporating the results of community health assessments. Such assessments can involve the collection and assessment of data, as well as the input of local community members and leaders to identify and prioritize community needs. These assessments can be used by facilities to assess their resources and identify priorities for facility investment. While IHS has identified such assessments as a priority, the agency does not require federally operated facilities to conduct such assessments or require the area offices to use them as they review facilities' scope of services. To ensure that facilities are effectively managing their resources, IHS has a process to guide its review of facilities' proposed construction projects that cost at least $25,000. However, IHS does not have a similar process to guide its oversight of other key proposed expenditures, such as those involving the purchase of major medical equipment, the hiring of providers, or the expansion of services. Specifically, GAO found limitations and inconsistencies with respect to requiring a documented justification for proposed expenditures; documenting the review and approval of decisions; and conducting an impact assessment on patient access, cost, and quality of care. The limitations and inconsistencies that GAO found in IHS's oversight are driven by the lack of consistent oversight processes across the area offices. Without establishing a systematic oversight process to compare federally operated facilities' current services to population needs, and to guide the review of facilities' proposed expenditures, IHS cannot ensure that its facilities are identifying and investing in projects to meet the greatest community needs, and therefore that federal resources are being maximized to best serve the AI/AN population. IHS, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services, provides care to AI/AN populations through a system of federally operated and tribally operated health care facilities. AI/AN have experienced long standing problems accessing needed health care services. GAO has previously reported that IHS has not been able to pay for all eligible health care services; however, the resources available to federally operated facilities have recently grown. This report assesses IHS oversight of federal health care facilities' decision-making about the use of funds. GAO reviewed IHS policies and documents; and interviewed IHS officials from headquarters, nine area offices, and three federally operated facilities (two hospitals and one health clinic). GAO recommends that IHS develop processes to guide area offices in (1) systematically assessing how federally operated facilities will effectively meet the needs of their patient populations, and (2) reviewing federal facilities' spending proposals. HHS concurred with these recommendations. For more information, contact Jessica Farb at (202) 512-7114 or farbj@gao.gov.
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  • The Department of Justice Files Brief Defending the Constitutionality of Idaho’s Fairness in Women’s Sports Act
    In Crime News
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  • Judges Share 50 Years as Colleagues and Friends
    In U.S Courts
    On the same afternoon in October 1970, the Senate confirmed four new federal judges from Florida. This month, three are celebrating a half-century on the bench, as well as a strong, continuing friendship.
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  • Four Charged in $32 Million Health Care Fraud Scheme
    In Crime News
    A medical director, operator and two unlicensed practitioners at a Texas medical clinic are now in custody on charges related to their alleged participation in a $32 million health care fraud scheme.
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  • Readout of Roundtable Event with Attorney General Barr and Members of State and Local Law Enforcement in Cheyenne, Wyoming
    In Crime News
    On Thursday, August 13th, Attorney General William P. Barr visited Cheyenne, Wyoming to lead a roundtable discussion with over 30 Wyoming police chiefs, sheriffs and other members of state and local law enforcement. The Attorney General was joined by U.S. Attorney Mark Klaassen, DEA Acting Director Tim Shea and Interim Director of Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation Forrest Williams. The Attorney General in his opening remarks conveyed his gratitude for the critical work local law enforcement officers do every day to protect their communities.
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  • New Jersey Man Pleads Guilty to Violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act
    In Crime News
    A New Jersey man who controlled two U.S.-based companies pleaded guilty today for paying a total of $100,000 in bribes to a Korean government official in order to obtain and retain contracts with the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), a state-owned and state-controlled agency within the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of National Defense.
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  • Attorney General William P. Barr Announces Updates on Operation Legend in Memphis
    In Crime News
    During a visit with law enforcement in Memphis today, Attorney General William P. Barr announced updates on Operation Legend, which was expanded to Memphis on Aug. 6, 2020.
    [Read More…]
  • Fire Extinguisher Manufacturer Ordered to Pay $12 Million Penalty for Delay and Misrepresentations in Reporting Product Defects
    In Crime News
    A federal judge today ordered Walter Kidde Portable Equipment Inc. (Kidde) to pay a $12 million civil penalty in connection with allegations that the company failed to timely inform the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) about problems with fire extinguishers manufactured by the company, the Department of Justice announced.
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  • Founder and CEO of Iranian Financial Services Firm Sentenced to Prison for Conspiring to Violate U.S. Sanctions
    In Crime News
    Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers and U.S. Attorney Erica H. MacDonald today announced the sentencing of Seyed Sajjad Shahidian, 33, to 23 months in prison for his role in conducting financial transactions in violation of U.S. sanctions against Iran. Shahidian, who pleaded guilty on June 18, 2018, was sentenced today before Judge Patrick J. Schiltz in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Shahidian, a citizen of Iran, was arrested in London, England on Nov. 11, 2018, and, on May 15, 2020, was extradited to the United States.
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  • Dominican Republic Independence Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Man Charged with COVID-Relief Fraud
    In Crime News
    A New York man was charged in a criminal complaint unsealed today for his alleged participation in a scheme to defraud multiple financial institutions by filing bank loan applications that fraudulently sought forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
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  • Ghana Travel Advisory
    In Travel
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  • Secretary Pompeo’s Meeting with Vietnamese Prime Minister Phuc
    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Statement by Attorney General William P. Barr on the Passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
    In Crime News
    Attorney General William [Read More…]
  • U.S. Seeks to Recover More Than $300 Million in Additional Assets Traceable to Funds Allegedly Misappropriated from Malaysian Sovereign Wealth Fund
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced today the filing of civil forfeiture complaints seeking the forfeiture and recovery of more than $300 million in additional assets allegedly associated with an international conspiracy to launder funds misappropriated from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund.
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  • Businessman Charged in Scheme to Hoard Personal Protective Equipment and Price Gouge Health Care Providers
    In Crime News
    A Mississippi businessman was charged with defrauding the United States and other health care providers in a $1.8 million scheme related to acquiring and hoarding personal protective equipment (PPE) and price gouging health care providers, including numerous U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals in critical need of PPE.
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  • Attorney General William P. Barr Announces Updates on Operation Legend at Roundtable in Albuquerque, New Mexico
    In Crime News
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  • Additions of Cuban Military-Owned Companies to the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Former University of Florida Researcher Indicted for Scheme to Defraud National Institutes of Health and University of Florida
    In Crime News
    A former University of Florida (UF) professor and researcher and resident of China has been indicted for fraudulently obtaining $1.75 million in federal grant money from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by concealing support he received from the Chinese government and a company that he founded in China to profit from that research. Lin Yang, 43, who resided in Tampa, Florida, at the time of the offenses, is charged with six counts of wire fraud and four counts of making false statements to an agency of the United States. The indictment, returned by a federal grand jury on Dec. 15, 2020, was unsealed today.
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