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Richard A. Bitzinger

The US and Chinese competition in the Western Pacific is increasingly taking on a military dimension. On the one hand, Beijing is increasingly prepared to use force or the threat of force to assert its self-proclaimed ‘indisputable sovereignty’ over much of the South China Sea. As part of an apparent ‘Anti-Access/Area Denial’ (A2/AD) military strategy, China is to develop the capabilities to prevent hostile (especially US) forces being able to operate with impunity within the waters closest to its territory. As such, the PLA Navy (PLAN) has particularly benefitted, as Beijing has de-emphasized ground forces in favor of acquiring the capabilities for force projection, long-range mobility, stealth and precision strike. The US response has been AirSea Battle (ASB), now termed ‘Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons’, which is specifically oriented toward overcoming any Chinese A2/AD capacity that could challenge the operational freedom of US military forces. The concern is that China and the United States are increasingly prone to resort to force in the East and South China Seas in order to achieve their geopolitical goals, which in turn raises fears that such a competition could lead to an armed clash, one that could inadvertently escalate geographically and in intensity.