China’s aggressive claims of sovereignty over the vast majority of the South China Sea have put the nation at odds with many of its Pacific neighbors, many of whom have conflicting claims over portions of the waterway. International law permits the navigation of waterways outside of about 12 nautical miles from a nation’s shore and awards exclusive economic rights to the sea extending out 200 nautical miles from the coast. However, China’s claims extend for thousands of miles, often overlapping the internationally recognized claims of other nations.
China’s position on the South China Sea has put its government at odds with the United States as well. With around a third of all global commerce shipped through the South China Sea, America has a vested interest in keeping international waters international—otherwise China could exert undo control over the billions of dollars’ worth of commerce sailing across its surface each year.
These tensions have helped to warm relations between the United States and nations like Vietnam, the leadership of which is acutely aware the country lacks the military capability to stand up to China alone. Many American allies throughout the region have opted to bolster their defenses in the face of China’s military expansion and sovereignty claims, most notably in Japan, where the nation’s very constitution may soon be changed to allow for offensive military operations.
China has long maintained a two-faced approach to foreign policy that includes aggressive behavior on the high seas and a polished, mature approach to geopolitical discourse. It now seems that China hopes to prevent the latter from being affected by the former in the realm of public perception, launching a new public initiative through their state-owned media outlet, the Global Times, that suggests Pacific states jumping on board with the F-35 has nothing to do with China’s aggression whatsoever.