A Balanced Threat Assessment of China’s South China Sea Policy

    Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


    U.S. lawmakers and analysts see China’s efforts to control much of the South China Sea as a serious threat, endangering regional security, freedom of navigation, and the liberal world order. This paper finds that political leaders and experts exaggerate the dangers of China’s South China Sea policy. As the world’s largest trading nation, China has a deep vested interest in ensuring that trade routes in the South China Sea remain open, and Beijing has no interest in military conflict with regional powers. Although China’s South China Sea policy is inconsistent with some of the norms and institutions of the rules-based liberal world order, Beijing does not seek to undermine this order as a whole and remains supportive of key elements of the international system. To avoid needlessly entangling itself in the South China Sea dispute, the United States should not support the territorial claims of any state and should make clear that the U.S.-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty does not apply to disputed territory and waters claimed by the Philippines. In addition, the United States should encourage claimant states to agree on de facto jurisdiction over disputed areas and to jointly exploit resources while more permanent resolutions are negotiated. Finally, Washington should understand that ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea will have little, if any, effect on the South China Sea dispute.
    Original languageEnglish
    Commissioning bodySea Power Centre
    Publication statusPublished - 2017


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