Joel in 300 level U25 "American Foreign Policy" wrote: " I liked the Idea of liberalism and I particularly enjoyed Immanuel Kant’s attachment to peace. I believe it is somewhat in our nature to want peace. However, peace requires the level of cooperation that has not been seen in the South China Sea. Do you think that the South China Sea dispute is a precursor to the troubles the United States is going to face when China becomes stronger and wants more influence?"
In international relations policy making, it's always beneficial to see both sides of the equation. The assumption from the US perspective is that the US has every right to be the main hegemonic presence in the Western Pacific. The authors this week don't question the assumption. But one has to ask, who has given the US this right? Well to begin with, US allies in the region have. Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines in particular are receiving military protection from the US. This in realist theory, is called 'bandwaggoning' of weaker nations under the main 'wagon' of the greater power. Clearly, Japan especially wants protection against China, even though it was Japan which invaded China in WW2 . In realist international relations, bandwagonning is accepted state behavior. But the hegemonic presence in Western Pacific, through the build up of US naval power under Obama, is threatening to China. Under realist theory, China wants to project its power in the China Sea, which is in the Western Pacific, because in China's view, this is its 'backyard ' which it believes is threatened by the US. So let's reverse the situation. Imagine if the island of Grenada in the Caribbean, believes that it needs to join a bandwaggon under the protection of China, because it was invaded (in real life) by the US in 1982. China builds up its naval power in and around the Caribbean to protect Grenada. In this scenario, the US would feel threatened by China, all the more so because it regards the Caribbean seas, where Grenada is located, as its 'backyard.'
So in the liberalism theory of international relations, the China Sea dispute would be settled bilaterally or taken to an international tribunal under the auspices of the UN . The Philippines did the latter (with consent of the US). The difficulty then arose that China didn't accept the ruling against China in the international dispute mechanism in 2016, arguing that the conflict should be settled bilaterally. This is a recognized method by which most international non-military conflicts such as a territorial claim, are settled today.
So let's cut to the chase. Liberalism has failed to find a solution. Realism will prevail and that is where we look at the wider balance of power in the Pacific. For example, let's look at Australia, probably the major power in the region. Does Australia want the US to go to war with China over a few islands? Australia has stated firmly it has not going to be a party in territorial disputes. The South China Sea sits about 5,000 kilometres from Australia. That puts us in the firing line of a war between the United States and China. The US is Australia's greatest ally and strategic partner while China is its biggest trading partner.In realism, Australia is now the balancing power and it's in the crossfire. Does Trump really want to risk a war in which Australia is in the crossfire? So to answer your question, no I don't think this flashpoint will escalate UNLESS there is an accident or a deliberate provocation by a rogue element on either side.