The South China Sea has been a central point of tension in the U.S.-China relationship under the Obama administration. In this podcast, Paul Haenle speaks with John Bellinger, the most senior international lawyer in the George W. Bush administration, about the implications of the July international tribunal ruling in the Philippines vs. China case, and why the United States is not a party to the law of the sea convention despite support from consecutive bipartisan administrations.

Bellinger, now a partner at Arnold & Porter, also offered his thoughts on the U.S. presidential election. He said that the threat of terrorism from actors such as the self-proclaimed Islamic State, an increasingly assertive Russia in Europe and Syria, and developments in the North Korean nuclear program will be among the top foreign policy priorities for the next U.S. administration. Bellinger noted that if elected, Hillary Clinton would be one of the best prepared U.S. executives to manage relations with China, and could be expected to push the Chinese government on trade issues, given the growing discontent in the United States over asymmetries in the economic relationship. A Trump administration, on the other hand, presents many more uncertainties for the U.S.-China relationship given the candidate’s lack of policy experience or well-known advisors.

Paul Haenle

Paul Haenle is the director of the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center for Global Policy. Prior to joining Carnegie, he served from June 2007 to June 2009 as the director for China, Taiwan, and Mongolian Affairs on the National Security Council staffs of former president George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.

John Bellinger

John Bellinger is a partner at Arnold & Porter, a Washington D.C. law firm, and an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He previously served as the top legal advisor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and to the National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration.