Deciphering the Shift in America’s South China Sea Policy
- Contemporary Southeast Asia: A Journal of International and Strategic Affairs
- ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute
- Volume 38, Number 3, December 2016
- pp. 389-421
- Additional Information
- Purchase/rental options available:
China’s massive reclamation work in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea between 2013 and 2015 was a turning point in US policy towards the South China Sea. China intends to use the artificial islands it has constructed — and the infrastructure it is in the process of installing on them — for military purposes. While for many years the United States largely positioned itself above the long-simmering territorial and maritime jurisdictional disputes between China and five Southeast Asian countries, the prospect of China using its buildup in the southern reaches of the South China Sea to establish greater control of its near seas, in the process diminishing US access to the waters and airspace of the world’s most critical waterways, prompted a reassessment in Washington about the South China Sea being part of larger US core interests, and its grand strategy in the Western Pacific. Washington has responded to China’s reclamation and construction spree with a new, active strategy that aims to deter China from taking further actions at its reclaimed features that would alter the existing military balance of power in the region and make China pay a “net effect” for its behaviour — should it continue to pursue an aggressive course of actions — by engaging more actively with Southeast Asian partners.