China and the South China Sea

January 20, 2017 • Volume 27, Issue 3
Can the U.S. stop Chinese expansion?
By Patrick Marshall


Chinese and Russian naval vessels hold a joint exercise in the South China Sea (Getty Images/Xinhua/Zha Chunming)
Chinese and Russian naval vessels hold a joint exercise in the South China Sea on Sept. 19, 2016. China's aggressive military activities in the region, including building military bases in the contested Spratly Islands and sending an aircraft carrier into the Taiwan Strait, worry many of China's neighbors. Rex Tillerson, President Trump's pick for secretary of State, also denounced China's actions. (Getty Images/Xinhua/Zha Chunming)

China has been increasingly aggressive in the strategically vital South China Sea, establishing naval and air bases — and installing weapons — on islands it is constructing atop environmentally sensitive reefs. Tensions in the vast region, heavily patrolled by the U.S. Navy, have risen sharply in recent months. Surrounding nations, including the Philippines, a major U.S. ally, want access to the sea's wealth of natural resources — primarily oil, natural gas and fisheries — and its busy commercial shipping lanes. Responding to China, former President Barack Obama sought to shift more U.S. military resources to the region, but critics say his “pivot” was inadequate. President Trump's nominee for secretary of State, former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, told Congress the United States should forcefully confront China in the South China Sea and possibly deny it access to the islands it has built. Meanwhile, the Philippines' mercurial new president has voiced hostility toward the United States and a desire for closer relations with China, injecting further uncertainty into the region.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Apr. 08, 2022  China Today
Jul. 24, 2020  China Rising
Jan. 25, 2019  China's Belt and Road Initiative
Jan. 20, 2017  China and the South China Sea
Apr. 04, 2014  China Today
May 07, 2010  U.S.-China Relations Updated
Nov. 11, 2005  Emerging China
Aug. 04, 2000  China Today
Jun. 13, 1997  China After Deng
May 24, 1996  Taiwan, China and the U.S.
Apr. 15, 1994  U.S. - China Trade
Apr. 13, 1984  China: Quest for Stability and Development
Dec. 05, 1980  Trade with China
Sep. 08, 1978  China's Opening Door
Feb. 08, 1974  China After Mao
May 26, 1972  Future of Taiwan
Jun. 16, 1971  Reconciliation with China
Aug. 07, 1968  China Under Mao
Sep. 13, 1967  Burma and Red China
Mar. 15, 1967  Hong Kong and Macao: Windows into China
Apr. 27, 1966  China and the West
Nov. 25, 1964  Relations With Red China
Oct. 05, 1960  Russia and Red China
Mar. 18, 1959  Red China's Communes
Oct. 22, 1958  Overseas Chinese
Jul. 24, 1957  China Policy
Apr. 24, 1957  Passport Policy
Feb. 16, 1955  Problem of Formosa
Sep. 15, 1954  Red China and the United Nations
Apr. 28, 1953  Status of Red China
Apr. 03, 1953  War in Indo-China
Mar. 13, 1952  Chinese-Soviet Relations
Jun. 20, 1951  Blockades and Embargoes
Aug. 29, 1950  Formosa Policy
Mar. 09, 1950  Aid to Indo-China
Nov. 24, 1948  China's Civil War
Aug. 06, 1945  Government of China
Feb. 17, 1945  Development of China
Jun. 07, 1943  Oriental Exclusion
Oct. 26, 1936  Chino-Japanese Relations
Jan. 02, 1928  The Position and Problems of Chinese Nationalism
Apr. 15, 1927  Foreign Intervention in China
Feb. 04, 1927  China and the Great Powers
Dec. 18, 1925  Extraterritoriality in China
Sep. 24, 1924  Military and Civil Aspects of the War in China
Alliances and Security Agreements
Conflicts in Asia
Global Issues
International Economic Development
International Law and Agreements
Land Resources and Property Rights
Military Bases
Regional Political Affairs: East Asia and the Pacific
U.S. at War: World War II