John Ciorciari: 'Non-negligible Risk of War' in South China Sea

John D. Ciorciari speaks on the conflict between China and its neighbors with Asia Society.

The conflict in the South China sea continues to boil as Vietnam began to "conduct unprecedented live-fire naval exercises" last week. The U.S. has even sent a "formidable destroyer," the USS Chung-Hoon, to ensure "freedom of navigation" and hold off tensions in the area.

In a Opinion piece published today, John D. Ciorciari, a Bernard Schwartz Associate Fellow at Asia Society New York, explains what's happening and provides insight into China's strategy in the territorial conflicts.

"While Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei has declared that China 'will not resort to the use of force,' an intense diplomatic duel continues," Ciorciari writes. "Nationalist forces are brewing in both countries, and a non-negligible risk of war remains."

Following is an excerpt on developments in the ongoing conflict:

In addition to this week's Vietnamese allegations of a "premeditated and carefully calculated" attack against an oil-exploration boat, the Philippines has accused Chinese vessels of "bullying" its ships and firing on unarmed fisherman in late February. In a symbolic step of defiance, the Philippines have just rechristened the South China Sea the "West Philippine Sea." It also removed some Chinese markers in disputed waters.

Assertions of Chinese sea power may please some in Beijing, feeding nationalist impulses and supporting calls for a robust blue-water navy. However, at least in the near term, a heavy-handed approach is unlikely to serve Chinese interests.

Video: John D. Ciorciari on China's clashes with Vietnam and the Philippines in the South China Sea, and possible outcomes (5 min., 45 sec.)

Click here to read Ciorciari's article on