Rising China and the South China Sea: Policy Options for the Philippines and the United States
It is less clear whether China has self-imposed limits on the use of force, but its behavior in ramming ships, cutting survey cables, and seizing territory, combined with its rhetoric, implies China is willing to use deadly force.
The South China Sea and the International System
China currently claims between 80 and 90 percent of the South China Sea (SCS). This claim is inconsistent with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.1 China has engaged in a pattern, going back to 1974, of seizing disputed geographical features, violently at times. The United States has consistently reaffirmed the right to freedom of the seas and objected to China’s pattern of behavior in the SCS. But the US has not assertively challenged China’s behavior in the SCS. Thus, the Philippines faces an exceptional foreign policy challenge in responding to China’s aggressive behavior.