South China Sea Strategies

America and China play chess.

A Guide to Stepping it Up in the South China Sea

The South China Sea has become one of the most dangerous flashpoints in the world as China continues to aggressively expand its influence and capabilities there. One year ago, we proposed several ways in which the United States could try to deter further Chinese encroachments. But, as the recent Shangri-La Dialogue demonstrated, tensions in the region have only risen since then. The Chinese have only accelerated their bellicose behavior, and nothing the United States has done has seemed to have any effect. The United States and its partners now have no choice but to consider a wider range of more assertive responses.

We are not seeking a conflict with China, nor do we advocate a war. We do not believe that China is an inevitable adversary of the United States.  But we are increasingly concerned that Chinese actions in the South China Sea, if left unopposed, will give it de facto dominance of an area that is a vital strategic interest to the United States. More direct U.S. actions would involve significant risks — but so would failing to act, and those risks are far less appreciated.

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