Since March, a series of escalations have heightened tensions in the South China Sea. From the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat to an ongoing standoff with the Malaysian navy, China has been accused of taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to further its control of the South China Sea. Beijing’s actions on the water are not all that different than what it was doing just a few months ago. But having them continue amid a global health crisis has sparked a new level of outrage. And the nationalistic response from Chinese authorities has only added fuel to the fire. These developments highlight the new normal in the South China Sea, which will continue long after COVID-19 fades.
Gregory B. Poling is Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia and Director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at CSIS. His research interests include the South China Sea disputes, democratization in Southeast Asia, and Asian multilateralism. Mr. Poling’s writings have been featured in Foreign Affairs, the Wall Street Journal, Nikkei Asian Review, and Foreign Policy, among others. He has authored or coauthored multiple works including The Thickening Web of Asian Security Cooperation (RAND Corporation, 2019), Building a More Robust U.S.-Philippines Alliance (CSIS, August 2015), and A New Era in U.S.-Vietnam Relations (CSIS, June 2014). Mr. Poling received an M.A. in international affairs from American University and a B.A. in history and philosophy from St. Mary’s College of Maryland.