Beijing describes the political situation in the South China Sea as improving. Recall that two years ago, a United Nations tribunal ruled that China's vague claim to ownership of about 90 percent of the South China Sea — signified by the infamous "nine-dashed line" on Chinese maps — is invalid, as is China's argument that its "historic rights" in the area take precedence over international law.

The court's decision unleashed a torrent of China criticism. But fortuitously for Beijing, the Philippines, the country that brought the case against China, has under the Duterte administration sought to accommodate China rather than press the legal advantage bestowed by the tribunal. Hence Beijing's optimistic outlook today that tensions have dissipated between China and the other five governments that claim territory within the nine-dashed line.

The main problem now, according to Beijing, lies not with the other claimants, but with the United States. U.S. ships and aircraft regularly pass close to Chinese-claimed rocks, reefs and sandbars, which Beijing says threatens China's sovereignty. So as the Chinese Foreign Ministry says, the U.S. "deliberately stirs up troubles and creates tension in the South China Sea ... running against the will of regional countries who aspire for stability."