China’s dominance of this strategic sea gate is effectively complete.
As recently as July 2016, it looked as if conflict could erupt between the United States, China, and possibly some smaller Asian nations over Beijing’s belligerent drive to transform the South China Sea into a “Chinese lake.” That month, the already fraught situation became far more volatile when the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague ruled against some of China’s territorial claims in the area, after which China vowed to use “all necessary measures” to safeguard its control of the region.
But now, despite the Trump administration’s decision on May 24 to conduct a naval action in the region, it is clear that China has emerged from this dispute victorious. The South China Sea—the vast, resource-rich region through which a third of global maritime commerce flows—is now the de facto territory of Beijing.
“It is, unfortunately, now game over,” said Mira Rapp-Hooper, a senior fellow at the Washington D.C.-based Center for a New American Security.
This “unfortunate” turn of the tides reveals America’s fading influence, China’s rising power (and increasing shrewdness about how to effectively use that power), and that the smaller Asian states are pragmatic and circumspect about these shifts.