Beijing just unveiled a new tactic to assert its sovereignty claims in the South China Sea.
Called the “lawfare” – or “legal warfare” – approach, China’s new strategy to control the resource- and trade-rich region shifts away from the former (and universally rebuffed) “nine-dash line” (NDL) claim to a more concrete – though no less imperialistic – one.
Specifically, the Red Dragon is now asserting regional sovereignty over the four contested island groups – colloquially called the “Four Shas” – housed within the South China Sea. This shift allows Beijing – at least, in its own mind – to claim ownership of the subterranean continental shelves to which these islands are attached.
And – voilà! – China has a new claim to the same contested area, only based on different terrain this time.
While some might perceive this maneuver as an insignificant move in a one-sided game of semantics, there are greater implications at stake. You see, it’s actually advantageous for China to reframe the South China Sea dispute this way. According to Michael Pillsbury, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and director of the Center for Chinese Strategy, in the Free Beacon on Sept. 21, the “U.S. government lacks both legal warfare and counter legal warfare capabilities” to fight back.