As the world’s leading maritime power, the United States is understandably concerned about the South China Sea territorial dispute—especially China’s breathtaking claims to well over half of the waters. Beijing’s position has important economic and strategic implications. Many of the crucial oceanic routes leading to Japan, South Korea and other countries in East Asia run through the South China Sea. Chinese control of that body of water would give Beijing a grip on the economic jugulars of all of those nations and might cause Washington’s East Asian allies to reassess their close ties to the United States. Nevertheless, the Obama administration should be wary of embroiling the United States in the South China Sea dispute by reflexively backing Manila’s position.