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Rocks, Reefs, and U.S. - China Relations

Maritime Relations
Lyle Goldstein

As was expected, sparks flew at the most recent iteration of the annual Shangri-La summit in Singapore. Like a prize fighter gathered at a champion boxing match, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter came out swinging in the much-anticipated encounter with Admiral Sun Jianguo, Chief of the General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). According to one account of the proceedings, Carter continued to “single out China as a bad actor in the region.” The U.S. Secretary of Defense himself said: “China is out of step with both the international rules and norms that underscore the Asia-Pacific’s security architecture and the regional consensus that favors diplomacy and opposes coer- cion.” In a further dramatization of U.S. objections to China’s current process of reclamation and building in the South China Sea, a senior U.S. Admiral flew over the disputed reefs in July 2015.