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The South China Sea contretemps has taken a decided turn for the worse. The United States has upped the ante in its contest of wills with China by deploying an aircraft carrier strike group to the South China Sea. This came on the heels of a warning from U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter of “specific consequences” for China’s continued “aggressive” actions in the Sea.

The strike group was preceded by U.S. “freedom of navigation operations” using guided missile destroyers and overflights by nuclear-capable B-52 bombers. Such shows of force near a rival’s claimed territory invite a response and increase the risk of a military clash that could spin out of control. Indeed, this projection of one of the most prominent symbols of American power changes the nature and prognosis of the “game.” The situation has now reached a critical level that cannot be ignored by Asia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

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