"The South China Sea territorial dispute is a protracted and complicated problem. Recently, it has become an even more contentious issue between the United States and China. At the center of this disagreement is China's massive territorial claims and its persistent approach to dealing with the disputes in bilateral and diplomatic ways. Historically, the United States has not accepted China's territorial claims nor its approach to attempt to solve the problem. However, for a long time the United States refrained from directly challenging China concerning these issues. This U.S. policy was changed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she presented her three-point program at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum in July 2010 concerning China's dispute resolution process. Clinton stated that the United States: 1) has a national interest in the South China Sea; 2) supports a collaborative process by all of the claimants (versus China's bilateral approach) for resolving the various territorial disputes without coercion; and, 3) urges the claimants to pursue their territorial claims in accordance with international law (as opposed to China's bilateral diplomatic negotiation)."
Army War College (U.S.). Strategic Studies Institute: http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/