Update on the South China Sea Disputes: A Transatlantic Approach

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Perspectives from Washington and London on the current situation in the South China Sea, mapping the potential evolution of tensions.

Nearly five years after an International Arbitration Tribunal ruling found against China’s maritime claims on the South China Sea, territorial disputes remain unaddressed. While China and ASEAN are engaged in a protracted process of negotiating a Code of Conduct to manage regional tensions, assertive and sometimes aggressive Chinese activities at sea continue unabated. So, too, does China’s militarisation of the manmade islands it has constructed, as well as its illegal fishing and efforts to extend Chinese domestic legislation over disputed areas of the South China Sea. 

Southeast Asian claimant states and extra-regional countries have sought to assert their rights to maritime resources and freedom of navigation against China’s claims and power projection activities. Later this year, the HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier strike group, joined by ships from the Netherlands and the US, will sail through the region. Furthermore, several European countries have issued Indo-Pacific strategies which all underscore their concern over regional challenges to the rules-based international system, including the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea.  

In light of growing tensions in the South China Sea, Greg Poling and Bill Hayton offer perspectives from Washington and London on the current situation. They seek to trace its potential evolution and attendant risks, and consider avenues for transatlantic policy coordination. 


Greg Poling, Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia and Director, Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, DC  

Bill Hayton, Associate Fellow, Asia-Pacific Programme, Chatham House, London 

Veerle Nouwens, Senior Research Fellow, Navigating the Indo-Pacific Programme, International Security Studies, RUSI 

Event partners

This event is organised as part of the Transatlantic Dialogue on China run by RUSI in partnership with Chatham House, with the generous support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The Dialogue aims to encourage innovative thinking on how to address tensions in the transatlantic relationship over China.  

Transatlantic Dialogue on China Blog

Exploring whether and how European coherence in its approach to Beijing can be enhanced in order to develop shared capacity in meeting the China challenge of today and in the years ahead.

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