Editor's Note: To read Hunter Stires' General Prize Essay Contest winning essay, which this article accompanies, visit The South China Sea Needs a 'COIN' Toss.
China’s maritime insurgency in the South China Sea has largely escaped public notice in part because it occurs through innumerable seemingly mundane daily interactions. These effectively conceal the extraordinary stakes being contended for when a Chinese ship bullies a humble Southeast Asian fishing boat. Despite its often-modest outward appearance, what is now transpiring in the South China Sea is, in fact, a conflict of world-historical scale, importance, and consequences.
1. These are, in order, the Quasi War (1799), the First Barbary War (1801–1805), the War of 1812 (1812–1815), the Second Barbary War (1815), the First World War (1917–1918), and the Second World War (1941–1945). This list does not include other military actions related to maintaining freedom of navigation or freedom of the seas.
2. Robert Kagan, The Jungle Grows Back: America and Our Imperiled World (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2018), 3–4