For centuries China was weak and isolated, and lost territory to other nations. Yet Beijing has rejoined the world and is growing rapidly, creating a far more powerful China than we have previously seen.
The PRC’s expansive claims would essentially turn the vast waters of the South China Sea into a Chinese lake. Beijing has effectively abandoned the “peaceful rise” which it once proclaimed to minimize fears of China’s growing power. This has led to sometimes dangerous confrontations between the PRC and several of its neighbors — Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam in the South China Sea, and Japan and South Korea further north.
Although the U.S. claims no territory, it runs “Freedom of Navigation patrols through waters claimed by China. American intelligence gathering led to air and naval incidents near the Chinese island of Hainan.
Moreover, the Obama administration affirmed that America’s security guarantee for Japan covers the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. Washington also effectively backs the Philippines, though that commitment is more ambiguous. Should the international pushing and shoving turn violent the U.S. could be drawn in.
Washington must avoid war with the People’s Republic of China over Asia’s many territorial disputes because our interests in East Asian territorial issues are small compared to those of China and the latter’s neighbors. The U.S. understandably prefers that its allies and friends control more territory and resources, but the benefits to America are indirect and limited.