China claims sovereignty over almost 80 percent of the South China Sea, which is rich in oil and gas and fisheries and is a busy waterway for world trade. Territorial disputes there as well as in the East China Sea have pitted China against several neighboring countries. Although China has avowed a desire to have peaceful relations with its neighbors, its increasing assertiveness and confrontations are defeating this purpose.
The U.S. has no territorial claims in the region but has deep interests. As a Pacific nation and a major naval power, it is committed to the freedom of navigation and unimpeded lawful commerce in the South China Sea. It is also engaged because of its pivot to Asia.
When President Obama visited four Asian countries in April, he explicitly gave security assurances to Japan and the Philippines under U.S. treaty obligations. China criticized Obama’s statements as a “severe challenge” to its territorial sovereignty and called them a clear demonstration of “one-sidedness.”