China vs. The US: Tensions rise in the South China Sea

The Main Point

As China continued to add to its facilities in the disputed areas of the South China Sea, the US military undertook patrols that challenged China’s claims. While the confrontations initially led to harsh rhetoric, by the end of the month a more conciliatory tone was being taken.

Key Events

China continued adding to outposts in South China Sea

  • China’s total acreage added to the outposts in the South China Sea have growning from 500 in December to about 2,000 today, according to US Defense Dept


  • By comparison, Vietnam has reclaimed some 60 acres of land closer to home in the South China Sea area since 2009, the official said.


US stepped up challenges to China’s growing assertiveness in the region

  • Navy warship — the USS Fort Worth — sailed through the South China Sea on near islands China is building in an effort to extend its territorial claims. Led to pursuit by Chinese frigate.
    • The Chinese government gave a stern warning Wednesday that it will protect its sovereignty in the South China Sea after the incident.


  • A U.S. P8-A Poseidon, the U.S. military’s most advanced surveillance aircraft, conducted overflights relative to China outposts.
    • In response the Chinese navy issued eight warnings to the US flight crew ordering them out of the area.
    • The United States vowed to keep up air and sea patrols in international waters, insisting that international law does not recognize man-made islands as extensions of the mainland


Tensions seem to ease toward the end of May (but perhaps only temporarily)

At the end of May, at an annual security gathering known as the Shangri-La Dialogue:


Defense Secretary Ash Carter:

  • Publicly criticized China for expanding a chain of artificial islands in the South China Sea, called for “a lasting halt” to the land reclamation by China and others in the South China Sea, and declared that the U.S. wouldn’t shy away from confronting Beijing over its determination to flex its military muscles in the region.


Major General Jin Yinan, director of the strategic research institute at the PLA’s National University:

  • Said there had been no progress in resolving the dispute, but the atmosphere had calmed a little because of “reasonable consideration” by all parties.


  • “But [the Chinese delegation] are all very clear that we did not come here for a quarrel, but to explain our standpoint of why and how to build a community of common destiny for Asia, and to negotiate and cooperate with other countries.”


  • Yin said the United States was “also very smart and flexible when dealing with South China Sea issues”. He said that a speech by US Defence Secretary Ash Carter to the forum yesterday, in which Carter said that countries other than China were also at fault for the tensions, showed he was not being “driven by Western media’s provocative reports”.

Sources for this Story:  

China accelerates land reclamation in disputed islands: Pentagon


Kerry to take tough approach in China over South China Sea


China, U.S. head toward faceoff in South China Sea


China cautions U.S. Navy on patrols in South China Sea


China navy warns U.S. spy plane in disputed South China Sea: CNN


Defense Chiefs Clash Over South China Sea


US, China tone down rhetoric over South China Sea