The strategic values of the South China Sea had long been recognized. More recently, the South China Sea has once again become an international flashpoint, as disputes take place in the context of a rising and perceived more assertive People’s Republic of China (China) vis-à-vis a relatively declining US that seeks to retain its influence and interests in East Asia. This paper tries to illustrate the growing strategic role of international law in the geopolitics of the South China Sea at play — a subject matter that has so far been less explored — and to assess how the intensified legal maneuvers, or “lawfare” between China on the one hand, and other South China Sea claimants as well as the US on the other, reflect China’s attitude toward the South China Sea dispute and may impact upon the peace and security in the region. It concludes that the “lawfare” since 2009, especially the South China Sea arbitration proceedings initiated by the Philippines, may have not only increased the uncertainties of China’s behavior and China–US relations, but also made the situations in both East and South China seas more complicated. Moreover, China’s responses in the “lawfare” also suggest that China has become more “rule-of-law oriented” as well as hegemonic. The dual images of China raise some uncertainty as to how the South China Sea disputes might eventually be resolved.