China’s South China Sea Claims Challenged By US Coalition

While the United States lays no claims to the South China Sea, it has deployed Navy ships and fighter jets in what it calls freedom of navigation operations that have challenged China’s claims to virtually the entire waterway. The U.S. maintains that freedom of navigation and overflight in the waters is in America’s national interest.

China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea have been a source of tension with several Southeast Asian nations, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei. Beijing has refused to recognize a 2016 international arbitration ruling that invalidated its claims on historical grounds.

Skirmishes between Beijing and Manila have flared since last year, with Chinese coast guard ships recently firing water cannons at two Philippine patrol vessels off Scarborough Shoal, damaging both. The repeated high-seas confrontations have sparked fears of a larger conflict that could put China and the United States on a collision course.

The U.S. has warned repeatedly that it’s obligated to defend the Philippines — its oldest treaty ally in Asia — if Filipino forces, ships or aircraft come under an armed attack, including in the South China Sea. The defense chiefs of the U.S., Australia, Japan and the Philippines gathered in Hawaii on Thursday for their second joint meeting, focusing on strengthening cooperation and addressing concerns about China’s operations in the disputed waterway.