Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
June 16, 2016
In 2013, China president Xi Jinping launched a massive reclamation and construction campaign on seven reefs in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Beijing insisted that its actions were responsible and in accord with international law, but foreign critics questioned Xi’s real intentions. Recently available internal documents by China’s leader reveal his views about war, the importance of oceans in protecting and rejuvenating the nation, and the motives underlying his actions in the South China Sea. Central to those motives and actions is China’s rivalry with the United States and the grand strategy needed to determine its outcome. To this end, Xi created five externally oriented military theater commands, one of which would protect newly built assets in the South China. Simultaneously, China’s actions in the Spratlys complicated and worsened the US-China rivalry, and security communities in both countries recognized that these actions could erupt into armed crises. A permanent problem-solving mechanism would allow them to move toward a positive shared future.