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America Must Take a Stand in the South China Sea

September 5, 2015 Topic: Security Region: Asia Tags: South China SeaUnited StatesDefense

America Must Take a Stand in the South China Sea

If we are not prepared to back our principles with strength, then we should not be surprised when an opportunistic and increasingly capable China takes full advantage of a vacuum of power.

The purpose of freedom of navigation and overflight patrols is not to provoke China but to underscore regional norms and international law. The United States is not interested in war; it’s interested in stability, rules, commerce, and freedom. But if we are not prepared to back our principles with strength, then we should not be surprised when an opportunistic and increasingly capable China takes full advantage of a vacuum of power.

To call out Chinese assertiveness that undermines regional stability is not to demonize China, but to underscore the principles on which we relied to create the existing order.  China has benefitted enormously from these rules, and we should continue to cooperate with China when our interests converge.  But when our interests diverge, as they do a good deal on maritime and cyber security issues, then we need to stand tall, and work closely with allies and partners throughout the region.  Accommodating a rising China should not include accommodating attempts to upset regional order through bullying.

Patrick M. Cronin is the former Senior Director of the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University and former Assistant Administrator at the United States Agency for International Development.  He currently heads an Asian security program at a think tank in Washington, D.C.

Image: Flickr/Official U.S. Navy