U.S. freedom of operations under continual and increasing challenge by a more aggressive China
[ Page 66-67 ]
Access and use of the global commons, particularly the sea and the air space, is a core element of U.S. military and commercial power. In times of war, control of the commons may be ensured by mil- itary means. In peacetime it is sought through international law and diplomacy and through lim- ited military responses when the rules govern- ing use of the commons are breached. In some cases, a peacetime incident may quickly result in a reaffirmation of traditional freedoms of the sea. In oth- ers, a more concerted effort, combining diplomacy with demonstration, is needed to return to adherence to inter- national norms. This latter combination appears to be the case regarding China and the South China Sea. As noted recently by Patrick Cronin and Paul Giarra:
Chinese assertiveness over its region is growing as fast as China’s wealth and perceived power trajectory. Beijing’s unwelcome intent appears to give notice that China is opt- ing out of the Global Commons.1
Though not a new phenomenon, China’s increasingly assertive activities in the South China Sea are drawing concern that the country is seeking regional hegemony at the expense of its neighbors in Southeast Asia as well as the United States, Japan, and South Korea.