China & the South China Sea: Sovereignty, conflicting interests and national security

Sidsel Elisabeth Rye Sørensen

Studenteropgave: Basisprojekt


The project starts out being puzzled by the recent Chinese policy behaviour in relation to the contested South China Sea. In the summer of 2016, the International Maritime Tribunal in The Hague rejected the Chinese claim to sovereignty over 80-90% of the South China Sea. Immediately, Beijing declared it did not accept the decision and maintained its claim to sovereignty based on historical arguments. It is puzzling why China during the past 25 years has been engaged in an ambitious building and expansion program for the Navy. Along with the building program, China has been engaged in huge development and building programs on rocks, reefs and hardly existing island in the South China Sea apparently aimed at buttressing its territorial claims. These puzzling initiatives lead to the research question of the project which is: Is China really willing to risk armed international conflict over the sovereignty over the South China Sea? And closely related to this, the project asks what are the interests and motives and capabilities of the Chinese political leadership to engage China in such a conflict?
The project applies a combination of neo-classical realism and Foreign Policy Analysis in order to answer the research questions. It is done by making four separate analyses of a corresponding number of working questions touching upon relevant aspects of the core question. First, the project analyses the legal issues involved in the Chinese claims. Second, it scrutinises the recent policy initiatives of the Chinese government in relation to the South China Sea and in particular which interests may explain the policy initiatives. Third, an analysis is made of the naval building programs in order to give an assessment of China’s current naval capabilities to enter into a potential conflict with the US. Because, the United States is the only realistic adversary to China and because of its policy in the South China Sea, the fourth section addresses the American interests and naval capabilities. The overall conclusion to the project is that China currently is not capable of entering into an armed conflict with the US. And therefore, it is hardly probable that Beijing will maintain a tough stand on sovereignty vis-à-vis the United States in the South China Sea.

UddannelserBasis - International Samfundsvidenskabelig Bacheloruddannelse, (Bachelor uddannelse) Basis
Udgivelsesdato19 dec. 2017
Antal sider39
VejledereSanne Brasch Kristensen


  • China
  • South China Sea
  • SCS
  • USA