By whatever metric you choose, China’s recent oil-drilling adventure in the South China Sea was a disaster. No new oil will reach Chinese consumers, no new maritime territory has been gained and regional advantage has been handed to the United States. ASEAN solidarity has held firm and the positions of ‘pro-Beijing’ forces in crucial countries, particularly Vietnam, have been seriously weakened. China’s foreign-policy making has proven to be incompetent. How did it all go so wrong?