A recent National Institute for South China Sea Studies (NISCSS) report would appear at first blush to be an independent academic study. However, the institute, located in China’s southern Hainan island province, is according to the fine print affiliated with the Foreign Ministry in Beijing.

Not surprisingly, the report examines US military activities in the South China Sea and maritime areas adjacent to China. The report was released just weeks before the US officially rejected China’s sweeping claims to the contested waterway, the latest move in what some see as a fast-emerging new Cold War.  

The Communist Party-affiliated Global Times said the report underlined “the US’ return to the Cold War-esque great-power competition to China-US military relations” and that “China [had] no alternative but to increase its military budget and build up its military forces as appropriate to uphold its national security.”

Whether China’s fast and rich military buildup in recent years, including substantial investments to modernize its naval forces, has been prompted by US freedom of navigation operations and other maneuvers in the contested sea, which are not new or particularly more threatening than previously, is debatable.

But as China increasingly views the US as a potential threat and adversary, a point that will have been underscored by the US’ July 12 announcement rejecting most of Beijing’s wide-reaching South China Sea claims, the NISCSS report largely overlooked the rise of another regional military power: Japan.