Most authors focus on the connection between COVID-19 and the South China Sea situation. Dr. You Ji from the University of Macau says the pandemic added fuel to China-U.S. fire to the point of a new Cold War now that the U.S. had another issue to rally against China. Furthermore, the U.S. abandoned its long-standing neutrality amid the pandemicwiththen-SecretaryPompeo's July 2020 statement. Professor Anne- Marie Brady from the Woodrow Wilson Center agrees that there was more tension, but the reason should be attributed to China. According to Brady, the pandemic strengthened China's relative hard power and “appetite for confrontation”. This was shown in China's threat to withhold sales of personal protective equipment (PPE) to New Zealand and China's increasing cyber attacks against vulnerable states.

On the contrary, Greg Poling from the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, Centre for Strategic and International Studies concluded that South China Sea tension rise cannot be attributed to the pandemic solely after revisiting what happened on the ground in 2020. China boosted military activities in the maritime domain but it was expected. Under the same impression, Dr. Euan Graham from the International Institute for Strategic Studies affirms the pandemic does not change China's course of action greatly as it was still under the threshold of armed conflict. COVID-19 only sped up the existing trends and took some attention away from China's grey zone tactics. Nevertheless, Graham argued that China's regular pattern was still worrisometoASEANclaimants.Graham agreed with Poling that U.S. activities here did not change that much. Singaporean ambassador Bilahari Kausikan agrees that COVID-19 did not change China's actions. Analyzing China's domestic dynamics, he ties the South China Sea's developments to the dominant narrative in China of the ultimate rejuvenation of the nation, and therefore China's grand policy on the South China Sea would not be changed even in the face of a pandemic. Any adjustment, according to Kausikan, was hence only tactical.

Apart from the big COVID-19 question, some of the authors look deeper into China's foreign policy mindset. Kausikan looks into China's notion of “national humiliation” to explain its aggressiveness in the South China Sea. Brady underlines how Xi Jinping took China “backward” by restoring past policies of Mao's era and acting more aggressively. This is in contrast to Ji's view, which denies that China abandoned the ‘keep-low' foreign policy principle. To Ji, ‘keeping low' under Xi Jinping only means to keep low to the U.S.

Against this backdrop, the authors provide some prospects for the upcoming future. Ji predicts South China Sea tension will reduce in 2021 because of a more nuanced and realistic China approach by the Biden administration, while Xi continues to ‘keep low'. Kausikan advocates for a stronger U.S. presence to maintain the overall power balance in the region since ASEAN and other middle powers will not be able to do so. If there is such a case, and if we follow the security spiral Ji touches up, there would be even more dominant big power rivalry. Besides the U.S., Dr. Graham predicts Australia, who pivoted its South China Sea position in 2020, will lean further forward.

In the subsequent article Dr. Nguyen Hung Son and Do Hoang would further examine the overall trends in the South China Sea in 2020 from Vietnam's perspective, and discuss some of the points advanced by the contributors to this volume.