The South China Sea plays an outsized role in international commerce and politics. A litany of regional and global powers crave its natural resources as well as the benefits that come with controlling on of the world's most important shipping lanes.
China has aggressively pursued control over the Spratley Islands — an archipelago of rocks, reefs and cays that sit in the middle of the sea. Malaysia, Brunei, The Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan have staked their own claims to the area, but it's really the United States Navy that stands in the way of China. The Seventh Fleet, however, cannot keep China from reclaiming land on the islands it controls.
Professor Dave Denoon, director of the NYU Center on US-China Relations explains how the situation arose and how it will likely play out in upcoming years.