In a new Peace Brief, Lieutenant Commander Aaron Austin outlines China’s subtle tactics to expand its influence in the South China Sea and examines why they are so difficult to challenge.


  • Disputes over territorial and maritime claims in the South China Sea are gaining new momentum as tensions, rhetoric and conflicts increase over disputed land features in the region. China, the leading regional claimant, appears intent on securing vast swaths of ocean for its own use and control.
  • China’s subtle and imaginative tactics are successfully compelling countries in the South China Sea to back away from disputing their aggressive actions.
  • U.S. Mutual Defense Treaties (MDT) in the Asia-Pacific offer no assurances that the U.S. will become involved in limited disputes over territory to which it stakes no claim. Events on the Korean Peninsula in 2010, such as the CHEONAN incident, provide a practical example of how post-World War II conceived defense treaties function in the 21st century.
  • Extra-regional affairs have the potential to exacerbate territorial disputes in the SCS and drive the region toward conflict.

About this Brief

This Peace Brief is based on Aaron Austin’s experiences and observations while deployed throughout Asia for the U.S. Navy and as an Asia Pacific foreign area officer. Lieutenant Commander Austin is currently an Interagency Professional in Residence at the U.S. institute of Peace. The views expressed here are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Institute of Peace or the U.S. Navy.

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