Past Virtual Event: Rocks, reefs, and resolve? Examining the purpose of U.S. policy in the South China Sea

Tensions have flared in the South China Sea over recent months. Various naval encounters—particularly between U.S. ally the Philippines and China and a close call between a U.S. military plane and a Chinese fighter jet—may indicate a deliberate decision by China to heighten tension. President Biden has responded with an unequivocal statement that the United States will defend the Philippines in the event of an attack in these waters, calling the mutual defense treaty “ironclad.”

Is war coming? Are the uninhabited, contested rocks and reefs worth risking great power war? How can the United States most effectively act to resolve tensions rather than elevate them? This event will examine these questions, evaluate what U.S. interests are at stake in the South China Sea, and recommend policies to advance them responsibly.

Event Speakers


Director of Asia Engagement

Defense Priorities


Senior Fellow and Director of the Indo-Pacific Security Program

Center for a New American Security


Assistant Professor

University of Hawai’i at Mānoa