China’s Claims to the South China Sea Are Unlawful. Now What?

Republican and Democratic administrations have failed to thwart aggressive expansion in one of the world’s busiest sea lanes. The solution isn’t flashy, but it could work.

It is, nonetheless, a message that is valid and long overdue. Over the past decade, China has steadily hardened its claims to most of the South China Sea, a zone circumscribed by a vague “nine-dash line” that one American naval commander called the “Great Wall of Sand.” The claims have included a campaign of building up shoals and militarizing islands or proclaiming municipal districts and settling people on contested islands. The reclamation of several reefs and atolls in the Spratly Islands has included construction of runways, hangars, barracks, missile silos and radar sites.

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