Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 4, No. 5, May 2016
By Sean R. Liedman
Since the end of World War II, U.S. strategy towards China has tacked between three central policy themes: containment, cooperative engagement, and competition. Additionally, a fourth unstated strategic theme undergirds the above: prevailing in the event of conflict. Even though they are fundamentally conflicting ideas, the principles of cooperation and competition remain central tenets of the U.S. strategy versus China today, and the tension between those two principles has been on full display in the South China Sea since 2012. Looking to the future, the United States has three broad policy options vis-à-vis recent Chinese activities in the South China Sea: 1) “Continued concession” to Chinese territorial expansion in the South China Sea in the interest of achieving broader strategic objectives, 2) “Freeze the status quo”, or 3) “Roll back” Chinese expansion and excessive sovereignty claims. Key observable metrics will indicate which of these policy options is being followed, the range of diplomatic and military strategies to achieve those policy aims, and their likely outcomes.