BEIJING -- Washington needs to state and re-state that what it is determined to defend is the global commons, not its naval supremacy in the South China Sea. The former wins high ground in the court of international opinion. The latter may generate headlines for the grandstand wanting to see U.S.-Chinese rivalry, but it will likely result in a limited alliance and set the region down a zero-sum track.
Chairman Mao's "little red book" is no longer a fashion accessory in Beijing, but China's leaders seem to be drawing inspiration from one of its aphorisms: "There is great disorder under the Heavens and the situation is excellent." Judging by the calculatedly risky steps they have taken -- like moving a gigantic drilling rig deep into Vietnam's Exclusive Economic Zone -- China seems to have concluded that, with the West preoccupied with Ukraine, Syria and Iraq, Southeast Asia divided over how to respond to its aggressive moves, and with Japan and the U.S. unsure as to how respond to North Korea's saber rattling, the situation is indeed excellent.