Asia & the Pacific Policy Studies

Bumping, precedents, and de‐escalation in South China Sea: options for the United States and China

By Siniša Vuković and Riccardo Alfieri

16th May, 2018 -

The article departs from a much needed clarification about the 2 overlapping conflicts in South China Sea: sovereignty dispute between China and ASEAN countries, and freedom of navigation dispute between China and the United States. Although both are well documented and covered by an extensive range of academic and policy‐relevant analyses, the lines between the 2 have often been blurred, yielding a very limited set of options for proper conflict management. This paper looks at the actual reasons behind Chinese defiance toward the United States, and how can this be reversed. In order to avoid a potential clash in the South China Sea, this paper looks at how similar situations, where the United States was challenging the excessive maritime claims of other nuclear powers, were managed peacefully in light of an inevitable clash. A surprisingly underscrutinized precedent of “bumping incident” form 1988, when U.S. Navy vessels were rammed by Soviet ships and “bumped” back to the international waters is used as a template for a potential solution in the ongoing Sino‐American conflict. This paper examines the limits and opportunities of this type of solution and shows how another “bumping incident” does not need to happen before a bilateral solution is explored.

Image: Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Burke on Photo Gallery of the US Defence

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