This article examines China’s behaviour in the South China Sea disputes through the lens of its strategy for managing its claims. Since the mid-1990s, China has pursued a strategy of delaying the resolution of the dispute. The goal of this strategy is to consolidate China’s claims, especially to maritime rights or jurisdiction over these waters, and to deter other states from strengthening their own claims at China’s expense, including resource development projects that exclude China. Since the mid-2000s, the pace of China’s efforts to consolidate its claims and deter others has increased through diplomatic, administrative and military means. Although China’s strategy seeks to consolidate its own claims, it threatens weaker states in the dispute and is inherently destabilizing. As a result, the delaying strategy includes efforts to prevent the escalation of tensions while nevertheless seeking to consolidate China’s claims.