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.

Summary

  • 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.

Related Publications

The Role of UN Peacekeeping in China’s Expanding Strategic Interests

The Role of UN Peacekeeping in China’s Expanding Strategic Interests

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

By: Marc Lanteigne

Despite its growing status as a major economic and military power, China continues to be a strong supporter of UN peacekeeping operations. China is not only the second-largest financial contributor to UN peacekeeping (after the United States), it has roughly 2,500 personnel deployed in ongoing missions, including in active combat zones in Mali and South Sudan—far more than any other permanent member of the UN Security Council. This Special Report examines what China hopes to gain from its participation in UN peacekeeping, as well as the challenges it will face as its troops find themselves in more dangerous “peace enforcement” situations.

Global Policy

China’s Role in Myanmar’s Internal Conflicts

China’s Role in Myanmar’s Internal Conflicts

Friday, September 14, 2018

By: USIP China Myanmar Senior Study Group

This report is the first in the Senior Study Groups (SSGs) series that USIP is convening to examine China's influence on conflict dynamics around the world. A group of thirteen experts met from February to June 2018 to assess China’s involvement in Myanmar’s internal conflicts, particularly those in Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan states, as well as China’s impact on Myanmar’s overall peace process.

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Global Policy; Peace Processes

The Intersection of China’s Commercial Interests and Nigeria’s Conflict Landscape

The Intersection of China’s Commercial Interests and Nigeria’s Conflict Landscape

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

By: Matthew T. Page

Like Washington, Beijing has an abiding strategic interest in promoting stability and security in Nigeria—the largest economy in Africa, a major oil and gas producer, and on track to become the world’s third most populous country by 2050. Yet from the Boko Haram insurgency in its northeast to farmer-herder clashes in its Middle Belt...

Global Policy; Economics & Environment

What Does the Singapore Summit Mean for South Korea, China and Japan?

What Does the Singapore Summit Mean for South Korea, China and Japan?

Thursday, June 21, 2018

By: Frank Aum; Jennifer Staats ; Ambassador Joseph Yun

The June 12 summit in Singapore between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was a watershed moment in relations between Washington and Pyongyang. But, the more immediate and profound impact will be felt in East Asia, where North Korea’s nuclear program has threatened regional stability and security. While South Korea, China and Japan have different—sometimes starkly so—interests and positions vis-à-vis North Korea, all three of the Asian powers will be important players in efforts to implement the pledges made in Singapore. USIP’s Ambassador Joseph Yun, Jennifer Staats and Frank Aum discuss the implications for Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo.

Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

View All Publications