Thank you for inviting me to testify today.
For the United States, the South China Sea is an important area of the Asia-Pacific region for three reasons: 1) it is part of a major transit route for maritime commercial traffic to and from East Asia and for the United States Navy; 2) disputes over the ownership of its many small islands, reefs, atolls, and rocks among China and several nearby Southeast Asian states (including one United States ally, the Philippines) are generating tensions that could result in conflict and instability; and 3) Beijing could eventually use its growing influence in the area to create a sphere of influence detrimental to United States interests.
Swaine is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and one of the most prominent American analysts in Chinese security studies.
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Averting a Deepening U.S.-China Rift Over the South China Sea
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These factors justify United States attention to events occurring in the South China Sea, and a set of policies designed to ensure access and transit, prevent or minimize tensions, and support the peaceful and legally based management of local disputes. Unfortunately, United States statements and actions at present are not effectively achieving such objectives, and growing tensions over the issue are threatening to severely destabilize the critical United States-China relationship in unnecessary ways.
Reacting to continued Chinese land reclamation efforts on several reefs in the Spratly Islands, senior United States officials and military officers vow to “fight tonight” if needed to defend United States interests across the Indo-Pacific, while referring to Chinese claims across the South China Sea as “preposterous” and Chinese land activities there as designed to “militarize” the region and to build a “great wall of sand.” In response, Chinese officials and spokespersons warn the United States against provocative actions, insist that China will not back down, and reiterate their determination to “safeguard our own sovereignty and territorial integrity.”