The United States should develop and promulgate a National Strategy for the South China Sea (NSSCS) as part of its ongoing efforts to counter Chinese aggression in the region and to resolve the disputes there in a peaceful manner. It behooves the United States to shift its current posture in the South China Sea from one of vigilant maintenance of the status quo to a position that will foster the peaceful management and ultimately permanent resolution of issues affecting U.S. navigational rights and interests in the region. An NSSCS is one effective means of producing the necessary shift.
On December 5, a Chinese warship nearly collided with the USS Cowpens, a guided-missile cruiser operating lawfully in the South China Sea (SCS). This was only the most recent incident highlighting the unsustainable situation in the SCS.
In a throwback to the time of John Selden’s Mare Clausum, China has claimed sovereign rights to the entirety of the SCS within a “nine-dash line” that encloses the sea, encroaching on China’s neighbors. Over the past several years, China has vigorously pursued its claim, regularly harassing the fishing boats and oil exploration vessels of other nations that border the SCS. Most alarmingly, China has endangered U.S. Navy vessels engaged in lawful military activities in the SCS. In addition, in what may be a prelude to its future plans for the SCS, China recently declared an “air defense identification zone” in the East China Sea, which includes the airspace over a disputed group of islands.