Security in the South China Sea : China's balancing act and new regional dynamics
Date of Issue2008
S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
In essence, Chinese policies over the South China Sea (SCS) disputes since the mid 1990s can be characterized as trying to strike a balance between sovereignty, development and security interests. China, like other disputants, never explicitly compromised its sovereignty claim. However, there have also been important changes in China’s approach, which include gradually engaging in multilateral negotiations since the late 1990s, stronger eagerness to push for the proposal of “shelving disputes and joint exploitation”, and accepting moral as well as legal restraints on the SCS issue. These changes are also demonstrated in China’s signing of the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), its accession to the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, and the recent agreement with the Philippines and Vietnam to jointly explore the prospect of energy resources in the SCS. Using extensive Chinese sources, this paper attempts to analyse the overall pattern in Beijing’s handling of the SCS issue over the past decade. The focus is on the question why Beijing pursues this balanced approach to the SCS contention. I argue that Beijing has scrupulously treated the SCS issue as part of its foreign policy imperatives in Southeast Asia and thus pursued a strategy of calculated moderation to achieve its balanced interests in development, the collective pressures from ASEAN, and the strategic presence of other major powers, particularly the United States, effectively restrained Beijing from further advancing its interests in the SCS. I also examine China’s positions on these latest developments in the SCS and the emerging regional Economic Cooperation Zone proposed by the local Guangxi government and its security implications for the SCS. I conclude that China’s balancing behavior is likely to continue in the near future, which implies that there is a good chance of maintaining peace and stability in the SCS, at least from the Chinese perspective.
DRNTU::Social sciences::Political science
RSIS Working Papers ; 149/08
Nanyang Technological University