The Next Step Toward Possible Conflict in the South China Sea


U.S. warships likely to challenge expanded Chinese sovereignty

When discussing the growing conflict over China’s dredging new islands to extend its sovereignty 1,000 miles into the resource-rich South China Sea, one phrase frequently pops up from U.S. military officers past and present. “China,” they say, “doesn’t do off-ramps well.” What they mean is that once Beijing has decided on a course of action, it is rarely deterred from pursuing it. Given that—and the U.S. declaration that it will not allow China’s sand grab to stand—what’s next?

The chance of shots being fired now stand at better than 50-50, says Bernard Cole, a retired Navy captain and China expert. But he believes any initial volley would more likely come from the Philippines or Vietnam, who also dispute China’s expanding territorial claims, than Beijing or Washington.


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