"Rising tensions stemming from maritime territorial disputes in East Asia have become a pressing challenge for U.S. policy makers, and pose one of the most complicated issues for the Obama Administration's policy of strategic 'rebalancing' towards the Asia-Pacific. Since around 2005-2006, long-disputed waters and land features in the South China Sea and, more recently, the East China Sea have seen increasingly aggressive behavior from nations trying to strengthen claims to disputed areas. Although China is not the only nation that has sought to press its maritime territorial claims, actions taken by People's Republic of China (PRC) actors, including its maritime law enforcement authorities and the People's Liberation Army (PLA), have been a particular concern. Chinese maritime authorities have taken actions include harassing vessels, destroying equipment, and blockading islets and shoals. Observers are concerned that the increasing frequency of such events raises the possibility of miscalculations that could lead to overt conflict at sea. […] The Senate may consider offering its advice and consent on the United States becoming a party to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Congress also may choose to examine the economic and security implications of a greater U.S. military presence in disputed areas, or the merits of providing additional resources to Southeast Asian nations to monitor and police their maritime domains. It also may choose to support efforts to lower tensions, including discussions between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on a Code of Conduct for parties in the South China Sea."
CRS Report for Congress, R42930