By: Hans Binnendijk

What is the kernel of the issue?

China has been aggressively pushing extensive territorial claims in the South China Sea (SCS) leading to territorial disputes with numerous countries. China has undertaken to build thousands of acres worth of artificial islands in the area to buttress its claims and routinely harasses planes and ships—including US Navy vessels—transiting the SCS.  

Why is the issue important?

The SCS is a major potential flashpoint for conflict between China and the United States. Myriad territorial disputes, including with US ally the Philippines, create frequent opportunities for confrontations to occur and to escalate. US Freedom of Navigation Operations in the SCS are meant to send a signal to China that the US is concerned about Chinese actions in the region, but unilateral US presence can only do so much.  

What is the recommendation?

The Biden administration should encourage capable NATO allies such as the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Spain to regularly participate in US-led FONOPS cruises in the SCS. Regular participation from European allies in these exercises will demonstrate broader, multilateral concern about China’s activities in the region.