Recent Trends in the South China Sea and U.S. Policy
Author: Gregory B. Poling
Tensions in the South China Sea have continued to build over the last year, with the Philippines submitting its evidence against Chinese claims to an arbitration tribunal, Beijing parking an oil rig in waters claimed by Vietnam, and Malaysia growing increasingly anxious about Chinese displays of sovereignty at the disputed James Shoal. These and other developments underscore just how critical managing tensions in the South China Sea are, for the region and for the United States.
With this in mind, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) hosted its fourth annual South China Sea conference on July 10–11, during which officials and experts from both sides of the Pacific offered analyses of the situation in the sea, likely motivations behind China’s increasingly assertive approach to the disputes, and possible ways forward in managing and even resolving the crises. Informed by this conference, this report offers an overview of the latest developments in the South China Sea and provides recommendations for the United States and its partners.
The following is a brief list of recommendations for U.S. policymakers regarding the South China Sea. The final section of this report explores these recommendations in greater detail.
- Assist the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the identification of legally disputed waters and publicly issue a map depicting them.
- Release a detailed legal analysis of claims in the South China Sea, particularly regarding the nine-dash line, through the State Department.
- Push ASEAN and its dialogue partners to embrace a freeze on activities in disputed areas while pursuing a binding code of conduct (COC) in the hopes of pressing China to do the same.
- Ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
- Issue a public acknowledgment that the United States erred in not accepting the 1986 ruling in the Nicaragua v. United States International Court of Justice case.
- Reexamine the ban on lethal weapons sales to Vietnam, preferably by developing a roadmap to allow a step-by-step relaxation of the restrictions.
- Relax the prohibition on contact between U.S. and Chinese forces in certain areas in order to promote more robust Chinese engagement in future joint exercises.
- Declare that the United States would consider itself obligated to respond under the terms of its mutual defense treaty with the Philippines if Chinese actions in disputed areas led directly to the death or injury of Philippine troops.
- Make the renovation, upgrading, and use of the Oyster Bay naval base a key focus of U.S. activities under the new Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the Philippines.
- Build up maritime domain awareness capabilities, for both the United States and its partners, and release a public database of real-time surface traffic in the South China Sea.
Download the full report at http://csis.org/files/publication/140728_Poling_TrendsSouthChinaSea_Web.pdf