Navigating the South China Sea

An extensive study of incidents and responses in the South China Sea suggests China’s deft use of public diplomacy, administrative actions, and military force has incrementally benefitted the country’s claims. Since 1995, China has undertaken 500 separate actions in defense of claims in the South China Sea—far more than the Philippines, which has taken 300 actions, and Vietnam with 130 actions, said Christopher Yung, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies. Yung, who spent the last year studying the six countries that claim territory in the South China Sea (China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei), presented his findings Tuesday at Washington, D.C.’s East-West Center. Specifically, Yung found that China and the Philippines each has conducted 28 different types of tactics, ranging from public statements and administrative actions to paramilitary and military displays of force, such as the 2012 Scarborough Shoal incident. However, China has carried out 55 percent of the paramilitary and military actions in the years studied—with 89 publicly reported uses of paramilitary forces and 59 incidences of military forces. China also has deftly used “information operations” to shape domestic and international perceptions, combining the right blend of administrative action, public diplomacy, and demonstrations of military force in certain instances. (See also A SEA Change from the July 2012 issue of Air Force Magazine).