Speaking at the Hudson Institute, Carnegie’s Ashley J. Tellis addressed the strategic and diplomatic implications of Chinese actions in the South China Sea. Arguing that China’s intention to enforce its ambiguous but expansive claims poses unmistakable danger to the existing international order, Tellis sketched out some of the possible long-term consequences, as well as possible U.S. responses.
Beyond the potential risk to freedom of navigation in the region and economic disadvantages for neighboring countries with conflicting claims in the South China Sea, China’s actions strengthen the shift toward progressively greater “national enclosure” of open international waterways, Tellis warned. He added that, if left unchecked, Chinese militarization would disturb the local military balances and force the United States to commit more resources to the region in order to fulfill its obligations to its local friends and allies.
Tellis called for a coordinated campaign to increase pressure on China through multilateral institutions and other international maritime functional organizations. Sanctions could be applied to specific, Chinese state-owned enterprises engaged in illegal construction in the region, he added. He argued that a regime of routine freedom of navigation operations should be maintained, and a coalition of like-minded nations in Southeast Asia should be assisted to develop their surveillance capacities as well as their naval and air power deterrents.