The Neorealist Explanatory Power of the South China Sea Dispute

Jacob Strube Wismer-Pedersen, Mads Pliniussen, Jens Erfurt Nielsen, Rasmus Jørgensen Hviid & Simon Møllegaard Andersson

Studenteropgave: Fagmodulprojekt


This paper is concerned with the South China sea (SCS) conflict, in which the purpose is to apply neorealism as a theory, in order to examine how applicable, it is in explaining the dispute. The reason for the study of neorealism, in this regard, is due to the criticism it has met in explaining this particular conflict. To test the validity of this theory, three counter theories have been chosen; Institutional liberalism, Constructivism and Geo-economics. The analytical part of the paper is built on four specific events; The Chinese Nine Dash Line, the South China sea arbitration, Chinas building of military bases and developments in the US weapons ban on Vietnam. The aim of these cases is to examine how neorealism can provide a theoretical explanation to the relevant issues in the South China sea and where the counter theories might provide a better explanation. Part of the analysis examines how the international system and changes in the system, in terms of power between China and the US, forces the two countries to reevaluate their own position in the system. The further discussion reveals how the neorealist theory lacks certain aspects, especially in underplaying the role of internal structures and their effect on external actions and reactions, which is emphasized by constructivists. Another element that is brought into the discussion and analysis is institutional liberalism. This school of thought argues that neorealism does not consider the effect that international institutions have on conflicts between countries. Ultimately, it has been assumed by geo-economic advocates that economic resources are important to consider in the examination of the dispute. However, the neorealist school maintains its position, by arguing that if the international system is influenced by anarchy, powerful states will always look after their own survival first. 

UddannelserInternationale Studier, (Bachelor/kandidatuddannelse) Bachelor
Udgivelsesdato29 maj 2017
Antal sider73
VejledereLaurids Sandager Lauridsen


  • Kina
  • Sydkinesiske Hav
  • South China Sea
  • Neorealism
  • Arbitration
  • Nine dash line
  • Island building