September 05, 2012

Navigating U.S. Policy in the South China Sea

As Secretary of State Hillary Rodham
Clinton meets with Chinese leaders in Beijing this week, CNAS experts
offer their insights into the disputes in the South China Sea
and recommendations for U.S. policy in the region. Click here for CNAS publications on the
South China Sea
, including two new bulletins on key issues in the region.

Dr. Patrick Cronin, Senior Advisor & Senior Director of the
Asia-Pacific Security Program

"A variety of virtually
irresolvable disputes in the South and East China Seas pose a grave threat to
U.S. interests. But allies and partners can be protected and reassured without
precipitating a conflict. Judicious statecraft is needed to navigate the
high stakes and complex legal and historical issues in question. Over
time, clear rules of the sea can be codified to preserve the open commerce and
freedom of navigation that benefit all."

Dr. Cronin also recently authored a commentary on the South China Sea in China-US Focus, "Averting Conflict in the South
China Sea

Dr. Ely Ratner, Fellow

"As is often the case with high-level U.S. visits to Beijing,
Secretary Clinton will need to deliver multiple and somewhat divergent
messages. It will be critical to communicate reassurance about continued U.S.
commitment to maintaining positive relations with China. At the same time,
however, reassurance must not come off as accommodation, and the Secretary will
have to be clear that the United States will continue to support the
development of a rules-based order in Asia. Clinton can stress that the
short-term goalpost on this front, and in particular prior to the East Asia
Summit in November, is the start of negotiations between ASEAN and China on a
Code of Conduct for the South China Sea. The Secretary can underscore that all
eyes will be on China in the coming months to enter into substantive and genuine
discussions with ASEAN, thereby providing a bellwether of Beijing's overall
willingness and intention to contribute to a regional order undergirded by
rules and institutions."

Robert D. Kaplan, Non-Resident Senior
Fellow and Stratfor Chief Geopolitical Analyst

"Though the United States must prevent China from dominating the South
China Sea, it must be careful not to be drawn into a conflict with China at the
behest of countries like the Philippines and Vietnam."

Oriana Skylar Mastro, Fellow

"The South China Sea requires heightened attention as claimants
maneuver to enhance the validity of their positions by increasing their
physical presence, creating evidence of administrative control and increasing
territorial grabs. The United States should not only communicate that the use
of force by claimants is unacceptable, but also that coercive diplomacy of this
sort should not be tolerated. Countries are hard pressed to make the
concessions necessary to manage territorial disputes as it is, let alone under duress.
In other words, peace is not enough. The United States needs to raise the
standard of behavior for all participants to ensure stability."

Read Mastro's recent CNAS publication The Sansha Garrison: China's Deliberate Escalation in the South China Sea.

Will Rogers, Bacevich Fellow

"Access to the South China Sea's potential petroleum resources is
increasingly viewed as zero-sum and is a key driver of the region's territorial
contest. But conflict over those energy reserves is far from inevitable. States
compete for access to natural resources all over the world without escalation
to political or military conflict. U.S. policy in the region must help tilt the
balance away from competition over these resources by encouraging states to
pursue joint development and other cooperative activities that will enable all
countries in the region to benefit from the sea's natural resource wealth."

Zachary M. Hosford, Research Associate

"Disputes among claimant countries in the South and East China Seas are
not new. However, as China grows in power and assertiveness, the global
appetite for energy resources continues unabated, fishing stocks decline,
technological advances facilitate disruptions to international commerce and
opportunities for diplomatic coercion proliferate, the stakes have never been
higher. These disputes - too complex and intertwined to be quickly solved -
must be managed, and done so multilaterally. Clashes today are not only more
likely to escalate to open conflict, but also risk global effects. As a result,
the United States, while amplifying its already robust presence in the
Asia-Pacific region, must continue to surge its diplomatic and economic efforts
to promote peace and stability in the region."

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