From the Overview: "Multiple Asian governments assert sovereignty over rocks, reefs, and other geographic features in the heavily trafficked South China Sea (SCS), with the People's Republic of China (PRC or China) arguably making the most assertive claims. The United States has no territorial claim in the SCS and does not take a position on sovereignty over any of the geographic features in the SCS, but has urged that disputes be settled without coercion and on the basis of international law. Separate from the sovereignty disputes, the United States and China disagree over what rights international law grants foreign militaries to fly, sail, and operate in a country's territorial sea or Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Since 2013, the sovereignty disputes and the U.S.-China dispute over freedom of the seas for military ships and aircraft have converged in the controversy over military outposts China has built on disputed features in the SCS. Of particular concern to the U.S. military is the possibility that the outposts may be part of a Chinese effort to dominate the South China Sea, with the ultimate goal of making China a regional hegemon that can set the rules by which other regional actors must operate. A long-standing goal of U.S. strategy has been to prevent the emergence of such a regional hegemon. U.S. and regional observers have been alert to other actions China might take to achieve dominance in the SCS."
CRS In Focus, IF10607
Congressional Research Service: https://crsreports.congress.gov/