All Quiet in the South China Sea

Why China is Playing Nice (For Now)

The USS Gridley pulls alongside a sealift command dry cargo ship in the South China Sea. (DVIDSHUB / flickr)

In recent years, China became increasingly ready to assert and defend its territorial and maritime claims in the South China Sea, where six other nations have competing claims. Beijing publicly challenged the legality of foreign oil companies' investments in Vietnam's offshore energy industry, emphasized its own rights over islands and waters far from the Chinese mainland, detained hundreds of Vietnamese fishermen near the Chinese-held Paracel Islands, and harassed Vietnamese and Philippine vessels conducting seismic surveys in waters that Beijing claims. Many East Asian countries saw China's behavior as a sign of the country's new willingness to adopt a more unilateral and confrontational posture in the region.  

Little noticed, however, has been China's recent adoption of a new -- and much more moderate -- approach. The primary goals of the friendlier policy are

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