An aerial view of a China-occupied Subi Reef at Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, April 21, 2017.
Francis Malasig / Reuters

On May 27, two U.S. Navy ships engaged in a freedom of navigation operation near the Paracel Islands to contest China’s excessive maritime claims in the South China Sea. At the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore several days later, when asked about the maneuver by a senior colonel from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Secretary of Defense James Mattis said, “We do not do freedom of navigation for America alone … it’s freedom for all nations, large and small, that need to transit those waters for their own prosperity and they have every reason to do so.” And yet, despite statements like these and an increase in such operations by the U.S. Navy, China continues to succeed in steadily restricting freedoms in the South China Sea, particularly those of its neighbors. This behavior exacts a direct economic toll on the region’s developing countries, and, more broadly, threatens

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  • BONNIE S. GLASER is a Senior Adviser for Asia and Director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
  • GREGORY B. POLING is Director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative and a Fellow with the Southeast Asia Program at CSIS.
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