Over the past year, there’s been a growing chorus of warnings from the United States that it’s preparing to adopt a more confrontational stance in the South China Sea. With China’s installation of radar jamming equipment and long-range anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles this spring on Fiery Cross Reef – one of China’s seven artificial islands in the disputed Spratly archipelago – the pretense that Chinese President Xi Jinping intended to uphold his vague pledge in 2015 to refrain from militarizing the islands has evaporated. Now, the quiet standoff appears primed to enter a new phase.
Last month, for example, a top U.S. general talked openly about the U.S. ability to destroy Chinese military installations in the South China Sea, and Defense Secretary James Mattis said the U.S. is planning a “steady drumbeat” of naval exercises near Chinese holdings in the disputed waters. In May, the U.S., Japan and Australia agreed to formulate an “action plan” on c