Fish, Friends, and Flashpoints in the South China Sea

How should the United States and the international community respond to China’s increasingly assertive activities in the South China Sea? The future of East Asia is strongly tied to the resolution of that question. Recently, a United Nations Dispute Tribunal ruled against China in an arbitration case that was brought due to a dispute between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea. Rather than provide clarity on such a contentious issue, this Note argues that the Tribunal’s 2016 decision simply added more ambiguity to the legality of China’s activities, threatening to ignite a regional powder keg. After briefly discussing the importance of the South China Sea and a history of the many disputes arising from it, this Note explores the Tribunal’s decision and analyzes its potential economic, security, and diplomatic consequences. This Note then proposes that as a solution to this critical problem, the United States should adopt an East Asian foreign policy strategy of limited balancing.

The full text of this Note is available to download as a PDF.