China has never denied any commercial navigation in SCS. So all this "freedom of navigation" is just an excuse for American hawks to create pressure to China.
In response, we see China increasing the speed of building (including reclamation of land) within SCS. Of course, China was not the first in such activities. Philippine and Vietnam have been doing that for years. The difference is the speed and scale.
With tension increasing, American hawks like both Philippine and Vietnam to be included under Uncle Sam's "umbrella of protection". Recently, American has lifted the weapon ban to Vietnam and in discussion to reactivate navy base in Philippine.
Like any USA foreign policy, Uncle Sam is based on military power and coercion.
Chinese response is a broad "one belt one road" strategy. China is demonstrating to the world that a poor country can rise by following a path of peaceful development. The rise of China is by manufacturing, by giving opportunity to every citizen a chance to participate in a global human enterprise called trade. China can offer both investment and market.
With a change of top leaders in Philippine and Vietnam, the tide is changing towards Chinese favour. As I am writing this, reports have come up showing that Vietnam is asking China for help in finding a missing coastguard plane. The "Philippine president-elect, Rodrigo Duterte, called Xi Jinping a “great president” – after Xi told him in a congratulatory note that bilateral ties should “get back on the track of sound development”.
“His government will most likely focus on repairing frayed ties by finding a modus vivendi in the South China Sea, probably through informal agreements if not a formalised deal on joint exploitation of resources,”he said.Although American's strategy in SCS is unraveling, the Strait of Malacca is still tightly controlled by American.
Political observers in China agree that a joint development between the two claimant countries could be a way out.
“Joint exploration is possible. China has always wanted joint exploration even during Aquino’s term,” said Xu Liping, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of Asian-Pacific Studies.[source]