February 08, 2016

Confronting China in the South China Sea

On January 29, the USS Curtis Wilbur, a guided-missile destroyer, sailed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island, a Chinese-held islet in the South China Sea that is also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam. Like the United States’ preceding freedom of navigation operation (FONOP), which took place in October, the Wilbur operation was meant to protest Chinese maritime claims that the United States and a number of Southeast Asian states consider excessive. But unlike the earlier mission, which was carried out by the guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen and which experts widely regarded as bungled, the most recent FONOP sent a clear legal message to Beijing and to the public. It also revealed important signs of support for U.S. freedom of navigation operations on the part of regional states.

By all appearances, in other words, Washington is finding its footing in the South China Sea. The United States can go further to sharpen its messaging and win regional support, though, by publicizing more information on its freedom of navigation activities and by building a multilateral coalition that supports them.

Read the full article in Foreign Affairs.

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