South Pacific

Updated: Jun 25, 2020

Rudy Atencio

U.S. Congressional TX CD8 (R) 2022

Policy Memo #1. U.S. Response to Conflict in the Western Pacific

Harvard University (Extension Studies 2017)


Last month in the South China Sea, the United States navy, under the command of this administration, conducted military exercises that raised conflictual interests between the U.S. government and China. The conflict surrounds a highly disputed set of islands in the western pacific meant to give leverage and global positioning to the superpower which dominates the region. One could compare this phenomenon to the global positioning gained by the U.S. over the Caribbean islands (Frieden 1988). Important to mention, the islands located in the South China Sea have remained a highly debated topic since the end of the second world war, mediated by international organizations, whose purpose was to overt conflict over issues such as land, or economic resources, ultimately bringing global stability to the benefit of all the citizens living within the borders of these key players. I am hereby, deliberating two options which could bring about regional stability.


Mr. President, On May 25th2017, under the command of the executive branch, the U.S. navy engaged in military exercises in the South China Sea, in order to dissuade the Chinese, from occupying trade routes in the region which is contrapositive to Chinas current stance (Kaplan 2011). The South China Sea contains a waterway that circumvents several western pacific nations, which is a “choke point” for several waterways that predominate trade between the west and all of Eurasia (Kaplan 2011). In fact:“More than half the world’s merchant fleet […] passes through these choke points, and a third of all maritime traffic. The oils through the Strait of Malacca from the Indian Ocean, in route to east Asia through the South China Sea, is more than six times the amount that passes through the Suez Canal and 17 times that of the Panama Canal” (Kaplan 2011).


It is in our best interests to block any further attempts by the Chinese to dominate this region. One reason for this is that the tribunal which referred to the United Nations Convention on the Law and the Sea hereafter referred to as (UNCLOS) has already dissented through arbitration in October of 2015 whereby the Philippines challenged China’s claim that they had legitimate rights within the region and specifically to the zone in question (Zhang 2016). According to the U.N. agreement article 287 of the (UNCLOS) rule clearly states that: contracting parties have a choice to participate in the arbitration process; free to decide whether they want to settle those disputes via arbitration. However, they may also settle the dispute in any way they deemed suitable (Zimmerman 2013). These multilateral agreements, and recent dissentions can be used to our advantage in a few ways, de-escalation, or sanctions on trade meant to pressure the Chinese administration into complying with the U. N’s dissention, which they volunteered for, most likely averting a military confrontation.


The most sustainable option to go with, is one meant to de-escalate the rising tension via the incorporation of multilateral agreements. In doing this the U.S. would be calling for, the participation of current global partners like the E.U., Australia, Japan, Taiwan, and The Philippines. Because the area is a trade choke point, it would be wise to maintain the positions of the (UNCLOS) agreement that trade routes within this region are not within China’s sovereign borders, but in fact, the U.S. should maintain the position that these routes are international waters protected by the agreements dissented on by the U.N.’s arbitration courts. This would allow for us, to legally assert dominance, as an enforcing body, under the trade agreements signed by all parties, after the second world war. The recent arbitration dissention, which China rejects, creates the need for international cooperation from multiple key players. This would infuse the political philosophy, of liberalism, whereby the interests for all trading partners within the Eurozone are protected, and thus peace, is more likely. Liberal ideals will stabilize trade, discourage China from blundering their way into the region, de-escalating conflict, while reinforcing frayed relations between long held partners in the Eurozone (Waltz 1959). Sending a neutral third party negotiator, to approach China, and see what their interests are in the region, as well as all collaborating partners, could help us reach a meeting of the minds thereby creating a multilateral win-win, averting a zero-sum outcome (Jervis 1978).


If the U.S. were to enforce sanctions, via the International Monetary Fund, or the World Bank, this would apply pressure to the administration that is currently emboldening the Chinese, whereby key supporters are punished financially and thus, more likely, to squeeze the current administration out of office (Bueno 2012). The caveats to doing this is? Retaliation by Chinese lobbyists, thus affecting the U.S. administrations in undesirable ways. If the U.S. administration were to pass an executive order outlawing foreign lobbyists, this could overt outside geopolitical interference, while the international trade routes are re-negotiated. However, it would also undermine the effectiveness of our partners in stabilizing the Eurasian trade routes, thereby escalating conflict in the South China Sea, while also giving away our state-sponsored international partnerships, thus diverting them, into the hands of Euro-Chinese interest groups, positioning China, as a nation growing too rapidly in power. If all international collaborators were swayed in the direction of the Chinese; China’s power, and influence, would grow too quickly dislodging U.S. control in the region (Frieden 1988). This could lead to an escalation in interest based conflict, and thus ultimately, to a proxy war, which could unfold in the South China Sea.


Overt any military confrontation within the Eurasian choke points, as doing so, would slow the growth rate of Chinese power, whereas increasing conflict in the region could put the United States economy at the mercy of the Chinese, especially if those choke points are destabilized, and the Chinese were to gain control (Frieden 1988). The goal is to normalize the balance of power between the U.S. and China.


Bueno M., & Smith, A. (2012). The dictator's handbook: Why bad behavior is almost always good politics. New York, NY: Public Affairs.

Frieden, J. (1988). Sectoral conflict and foreign economic policy, 1914–1940. International Organization, 42(01), 59. doi:10.1017/s002081830000713x

Jervis, R. (1978). Cooperation under the Security Dilemma. World Politics, 30(02), 167-214. doi:10.2307/2009958

Kaplan, R. D. (2011). The South China Sea is the Future of Conflict. Foreign Policy, 1-9

Russell, W. H., & Waltz, K. N. (1959). Man, the State and War--A Theoretical Analysis. Military Affairs, 23(4), 217. doi:10.2307/1984611

Zimmermann, A., & Bäumler, J. (2013). Navigating Through Narrow Jurisdictional Straits: The Philippines – PRC South China Sea Dispute and UNCLOS. The Law & Practice of International Courts and Tribunals, 12(3), 431-461. doi:10.1163/15718034-12341266

50 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All