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Bismarck or Wilhelm? China's Peaceful Rise vs. Its South China Sea Policy.

For Washington and for China's neighbors, the question is quite simple: Is a rising China going to follow in the footsteps of Otto von Bismarck or Kaiser Wilhelm II? These two German leaders presided over a rapidly rising Germany but chose starkly different paths for their nation's foreign policy. After unifying the disparate German federal states into a strong and powerful German nation-state in 1871, Bismarck managed Germany's rise while, importantly, not eliciting a balancing coalition against it, or a war. Despite the expectations of modern realists that a rising power should/would provoke a balancing coalition (at least) and/or war (at worst), Bismarck's grand strategy elicited neither (Allison 2015). Of Otto von Bismarck, Eric Hobsbawm (1987, 312) famously said he "remained undisputed world champion at the game of multilateral diplomatic chess for almost twenty years after 1871, [and] devoted himself exclusively, and successfully, to maintaining peace between the powers." In contrast, in 1890 when Kaiser Wilhelm II relieved Bismarck of his duties as senior statesman and took over Germany's foreign policy, he took Germany in a military, political, and economic expansionist direction that entailed few attempts to assuage Germany's neighbors and/or competitors, or to effectively manage the regional alliance system his predecessor had worked so hard to keep in balance. Nor did he apparently give serious consideration to the insecurities his nation's rapid rise might cause Germany's neighbors. The result, of course, was an arms race as Russia, France, and Great Britain, in particular, responded to Germany's new unilateralism, military buildup, and economic growth in the early twentieth century. All of this, with the important roles of smaller powers like Serbia and individuals like Princip and his assassination of Arch Duke Francis Ferdinand, led to World War I in 1914. One can only wonder how Germany, and Europe, would have fared had Kaiser Wilhelm not taken over German foreign policy but allowed instead someone in the tradition of the master statesman, Otto von Bismarck, to continue guiding German foreign policy in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Like Germany under Bismarck and Wilhelm, China is a power that is rising rapidly, upsetting the regional balance of power. Like Germany under Bismarck and Wilhelm, it faces choices in how it will conduct its foreign policy now and in coming years--choices that will have a momentous impact on regional peace and security. The South China Sea is and will be one of the most important strategic arenas in which China will have to decide how to exercise its power in coming years. In fact, there has been much discussion in the media and increasingly in academic circles as well about the rising importance of the South China Sea in not just regional (East and Southeast Asian) international relations but international relations writ large. The recent ruling of the Arbitration Tribunal at The Hague on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea as it pertains to the Philippines' charges against China (1) has made it clear that this is an issue that has international importance. Robert Kaplan says the South China Sea is to China today what the Caribbean Sea was to the United States in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, that the South China Sea is to the East Asian strategic context what the Mediterranean Sea has represented to the European, African, and Near-Eastern context from the days of the Greek city-states to the present, and that "the South China Sea beckons as the key to China's geostrategic future" (2015, 20). While these comparisons are apt in their own ways, the South China Sea and its local context are in many ways particular to themselves and the twenty-first century, such that while learning from the past we must treat the South China Sea as a twenty-first-century strategic phenomenon in its own right. Alluded to here are important factors such as China's Anti-Access Area Denial strategy (as it has been deemed by the United States) and the US response, Air-Sea Battle, which, pitted against each other, create a discomfiting level of escalatory potential (Moore 2014).

The South China Sea is important from a strategic perspective, for "the best guesses suggest that more than half the world's maritime trade goes through the Straits of Malacca, along with half the world's liquefied gas and one third of its crude oil" (Hayton 2014, 101). The South China Sea is also a theater in which the interests of China and the United States overlap and in some cases conflict. In fact, one might argue that the US Navy has provided a "public good" in the South China Sea since World War II, keeping sea lines of navigation and free commerce open. US engagement in the region is welcomed by all nations adjacent to the South China Sea except China, which sees the US role as a foil to China's more assertive policy actions there.2 While Sino-US strategic competition there may be relatively new, the importance of the Straits of Malacca and the South China Sea is not new to the twenty-first century, for the region has been a strategic waterway and the fulcrum of intra- and interregional trade for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years.

What makes the South China Sea of particular interest to foreign policy wonks and IR specialists early in the twenty-first century, however, is that perhaps no other strategic context offers as important a test case for "the peaceful (or not-so-peaceful) rise of China" rhetoric that has emanated from Beijing for the last few years. The Hague Tribunal ruling makes this even more apparent. This case highlights as well the importance of a deft and delicate handling of foreign and strategic policy for China and the implications for China's neighbors of a once-again powerful China in their neighborhood. Here, where the strategic and territorial issues are of great importance but the rules are not as clear as we'd like them to be, China has the ability to exhibit either cooperative (and to its neighbors, accommodating) behavior or what to its neighbors can only appear to be aggressive and opportunistic rather than principle-driven behavior. The outcome of the disputes between China and its neighbors in the South China Sea is important for the region and the world because the way these disputes play out is ultimately related to the ability of China to rise peacefully, and the rise of China has extremely important implications for both the region and the world as a whole. Let us turn then to a discussion of the larger issue of China's global rise.

The Peaceful Rise Rhetoric

For international policymakers and students of international relations, one of the seminal events of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries is the rise of China. China's rise as a global economic power is awe-inspiring in many ways, particularly given the state of economic brokenness it found itself in at the close of the Cultural Revolution in the mid-1970s, from whence it has grown to become the world's second largest economy. How have Chinese policymakers chosen to present China's rise?

The "harmonious world" policy forged under President Hu Jintao builds on Hu's predecessors' "good neighbor" policy, which sought to solidify and stabilize relations with China's neighbors so it could focus on development. In fact, China has fourteen neighbors with which it shares borders, and under Hu relations with all of these neighbors were on solid ground, "the best in history" according to one Chinese expert in 2008.3 China's harmonious world policy is meant to build harmonious relations, not only with China's neighbors, but with nations around the world. Hu Jintao (2008) put it this way:
   In a world where the trend toward multipolarity is irreversible,
   economic globalization is deepening and the scientific and
   technological revolution is accelerating, China's future is more
   closely linked with the future of the world than ever before....
   China will firmly keep to the path of peaceful development....
   China is committed to the peaceful settlement of international
   disputes.... China will never seek hegemony or expansion.

Coming from China's then president, these words are important, and to them we will return later.

With the rise of Xi Jinping to the helm of China's ship of state, China's foreign policy rhetoric has not changed significantly, but its foreign policy has changed. Xi has brought to the fore his "China Dream" narrative, which one might call a collectivist version of the American Dream. Xi (2014, 37-39) defines it as "the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation" most basically. Xi has also advocated a "new type of great power relations" (NTGPR) based on three axioms: "no conflicts or confrontations, mutual respect, and win-win cooperation" (Xi 2013, 306). While President Hu had floated it around in earlier years, Xi took up this mantra and proposed it to US president Barack Obama in their 2013 Sunnylands summit. It does not appear to have gotten much traction with US interlocutors, however. In China's 2017 "White Paper on Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific" (State Council Information Office 2017), it appears that the general notions (and three axioms above) of the NTGPR are still a part of China's foreign policy pantheon, though the term NTGPR was not included. Rather, the document calls for "a new model of international relations centered on mutually beneficial cooperation" (though what that entails is not detailed in the report), and in this report, China's leaders continue to invoke the notion of China's pursuit of "peaceful development" as its guiding principle, a term featured prominently in Xi's report to the Nineteenth Party Congress (Xi 2017).

"Peaceful development" is a newer twist on an older term, "peaceful rise" (heping jueqi). "Peaceful rise" was coined famously in 2002 by China Reform Forum chairman Zheng Bijian (1995), but the term "peaceful development" was adopted more widely by President Hu Jintao and other Chinese leaders in 2004 and after. This was an outgrowth of China's "new security concept" (xin anquan guan) from several years previous, which was China's articulation of its desire to avoid the sometimes disruptive and violent political and military mistakes of previous rising powers. Bonnie Glaser and Evan Medeiros have argued that the Chinese government moved away from the "peaceful rise" rhetoric in later years in favor of the now commonly used "peaceful development" (a term clearly evident in Xi's speech to the Nineteenth Party Congress) because language about China's "rise" might still set off alarms for those with realist inclinations about the rise of a new power (Glaser and Medeiros 2007). Of course, all of this rhetoric of rising and developing comes within the context of the words of the preeminent architect of China's rise, Deng Xiaoping, who said that China should taoguang, yanghui, or literally, "hide brightness, nurture obscurity." This has been interpreted to mean either that China just seeks to develop peacefully and does not seek a place for itself on any global stage (i.e., wants to stay out of the spotlight) or that China does have great ambitions to be a global player but that it must bide its time until the time is right (i.e., its power gauge is pointing at "full power") before it can make its move. The difference between these two interpretations is profound, needless to say, and the question of what role China will ultimately play in the region and globally is bound up therein.

While peaceful development has continued to be China's rhetoric under Xi (and it was a mantra oft cited by Xi in his report to the Nineteenth Party Congress), there can be no doubt that his foreign policy choices reveal that he has laid aside Deng Xiaoping's old taoguang, yanghui maxim. Chinese analysts seem to agree that Xi's understanding is that China's time has come, that its power is now sufficiently robust, and that while it must be cautious it no longer needs to hide its brightness and nurture obscurity. In fact, in recent years there have been increasing voices among the Chinese media, punditry, and policy analysts for greater assertiveness in Chinese foreign policy. It appears that President Xi will not leave them disappointed. China's policies in the South China Sea under Xi are a case in point.

China, the United States, and the South China Sea

China's policy in the South China Sea provides a convenient test case in this context, a way to assess China's foreign policy actions against its rhetoric. From the perspective of some of China's neighbors and many in Washington, Beijing's more robust policies in the East China and South China Seas in recent years look very much like realist prophecy fulfilled. In other words, as Thucydides put it in his study of the Peloponnesian Wars, "the strong do what they can, while the weak accept what they must," meaning as China becomes stronger, it will become more aggressive (Moore 2017, 98). Putting it another way, as China's economic growth has continued apace, it has transferred more and more of that economic growth into military spending. In particular, the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has received much of the growth, expanding its maritime capabilities and its reach from Northeast Asia to the East China Sea to the South China Sea to China's socalled string of pearls naval facilities that are interspersed from the South China Sea through the Strait of Malacca through South Asia and up to the Persian Gulf region, where much of China's shipping runs, whether exports of manufactured goods to Europe, imports of oil from the Middle East, or a multitude of other kinds of goods and trade. The mandate of the PLAN has expanded in recent years, and China has increased its commitment to its maritime claims and the policing thereof (Lee 2012).

US policymakers have been watching developments in China's maritime disputes with interest and with no small concern. From the US perspective, the dispute between China and the Philippines in particular is an important test case in how China will handle its maritime disputes with its smaller neighbors. Given that the Philippines is a formal US ally, despite its recently rockier relations under Duterte, the United States is watching this closely. In April 2012, as eight Chinese fishing boats were plying the waters of what the Philippines call Panatag Shoal, Westerners call Scarborough Shoal, and the Chinese call Huangyan Island, the Philippines dispatched the biggest ship in its fleet, a retired US Coast Guard cutter, to the region. Finding, according to the Philippines government, that the boats were Chinese in origin, that they were fishing inside the Philippines' 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (based on UN Law of the Sea principles), and that they had illegally obtained clams, live sharks, and coral samples on board (Zirulnick 2012), the Filipinos began the process of arresting the fishermen. Before the fishermen could be arrested, however, two Chinese maritime surveillance ships arrived and effectively prevented the arrests. In a display of de-escalation, the Philippines' large ship eventually withdrew, to be replaced by a smaller Philippine coast guard ship. Instead of de-escalation, however, the Chinese brought a yet larger fisheries patrol and maritime enforcement ship (the Yuzheng 310, 361 feet long) to the scene. With the scattering of the Chinese fishing boats, a standoff between Chinese and the Philippines' official vessels ensued, with both sides refusing to back down.

Regarding US support for the Philippines in its confrontation with China in the South China Sea, the election of Rodrigo Duterte as president of the Philippines in 2016 complicated Washington's relations with the Philippines, for upon assuming office, Duterte adopted a profoundly anti-American tone. Duterte has not revoked his country's claims against China in the South China Sea; nor has it walked away from its alliance with the United States or revoked US basing rights at Subic Bay. It appears that Duterte has more respect for President Trump than he did for Obama, and Washington-Manila relations have improved under Trump. In fact, Trump met Duterte in Manila in mid-November 2017 on the sidelines of the ASEAN meeting, which the Philippines hosted, and the meetings went smoothly by most accounts, suggesting that relations between Washington and Manila are back on more solid ground.

American China watchers in and outside government are concerned about such conflicts between China and its neighbors over maritime claims for several reasons. First, though a signatory to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and though the Chinese say, "China is committed to upholding peace and stability in the South China Sea, and working for peaceful solutions to the disputes over territories and maritime rights and interests with the countries directly involved through friendly negotiation and consultation ... as well as freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea" (State Council Information Office 2017), China's nine-dash line claims and island-building activities are a challenge to the claims of other states in the South China Sea based on UNCLOS principles. For example, Panatag/Scarborough Shoal/Huangyan Island is 123 miles from the main Philippine island of Luzon but 540 miles from China's Hainan Island, China's closest land mass. Panatag/Scarborough/Huangyan is well within the 200-mile limit of the UNCLOS Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for the Philippines and far outside China's EEZ (see Figure 1 below--the tongue-shaped dotted line represents the EEZ delimitations of the nations facing the South China Sea), and while UNCLOS does not provide any grounds on which to base sovereignty claims, the Philippines' claims over this feature would appear to be more persuasive than China's in this case. China's claims were weakened by the Permanent Court of Arbitration's (2016) ruling, which concluded that China's claims were baseless. China's claim to the shoal (not really an island) is based on the stated historical presence of Chinese fishermen there over the years, along with the historical legacy of its nine-dash line. China argues that it made its claims to the South China Sea explicit in a 1947 map showing nine dashed lines surrounding the South China Sea, off the shores of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines (the map below shows China's claims as represented by the darkest dotted line). Though China has evidence that its fishermen frequented the area for many years, the Philippines argues that their fishermen have been visiting the shoal for centuries as well. In fact, historical claims are notoriously hard to substantiate in such cases, as all sides tend to make them.

Second, the United States and others find China's position problematic. Beijing argues that even questioning China's claims is unthinkable, that there is no place nor room for negotiation of any kind on the matter regarding the sovereignty of these maritime features. China's position is represented by the statement, "The [Huangyan] island has been part of China's indisputable territory since ancient times" (Zhang 2012). In like manner, China's "White Paper on Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific" states, "China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha [Spratly] islands and their adjacent waters." "Indisputable" has been a term used by Chinese authorities in statements about China's claim to Huangyan Island (and other parts of the South China Sea), and they've argued that there is no need to take the dispute to any international tribunals or UNCLOS hearings, as the Philippines has done, because this would internationalize what is in their view a dispute between China and the Philippines. "Bringing disputes about another country's indisputable territory to international tribunals violates the ground rules of contemporary international relations," argues Deng Zhonghua, director of the Chinese Foreign Ministry's Department of Boundaries and Ocean Affairs (Zhang 2012). China maintains this position in its response to the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration as well as in more recent Chinese policy statements (State Council Information Office 2017). The US perspective is that China has staked out a position characterized by the aphorism, "It's my way or the highway." (4) China has gone to great lengths to avoid any discussion of its South China Sea claims in a forum outside of bilateral discussions with the Philippines or the other co-claimants. US observers, along with China's neighbors, do not consider this position helpful but rather consider it arrogant, uncooperative, hardly harmonious, and even "hegemonic," to use a term the Chinese have used with derision against the United States and the Soviet Union.

Beijing's Choice

The South China Sea is one place in particular where China will have to choose between the expedience and near-term gains of its present South China Sea policy, on the one hand, and its broader geostrategic interests and long-term gains, as articulated in its NTGPR, peaceful rise, harmonious world, and good neighbor policies/narratives, on the other. US and regional policymakers are concerned that what they view as a new assertiveness in China's relations with its neighbors since 2008-2009, in maritime disputes in particular, could be a foretelling of China's international behavior in the future, when its power has reached its culmination, its fullness. Much of the US "China-watcher" community is still today of the "engagement not containment" ilk, seeing China as a "troubled modernizer" and perhaps slightly oppressive but basically pragmatic trader, rather than a "red menace" or expansionist threat, to borrow terms from Richard Madsen (1995). Until the last couple of years, the "China threat" narrative has had only a minority number of adherents in this all-important community of those who most influence US policy on China. While there are not yet any quantitative data to support this contention, it seems certain that the "China threat" narrative has gained adherents in Washington and regional capitals in the last few years. There are a number of reasons for this change: China's support (5) of North Korea through the Cheonan and Yeon-pyeong Island incidents (2010); its more aggressive stance in the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands (the fall 2010 collision between the Chinese trawler and Japanese coast guard ships and the bilateral fallout thereafter being a case in point) and in the South China Sea with Chinese patrol boats cutting the cable lines being towed by Vietnamese survey ships in 2011; the 2012 Huangyan/Scarborough/ Panatag standoff between China and the Philippines; and China's reclamation (or island-building) efforts on reefs in the contested Spratly Islands, to name a few examples. These actions by China have moved professional China watchers as well as policymakers in Washington to the right, such that the newly emerging US consensus on China seems to be a hawkish one (Blackwill and Tellis 2015; Harding 2015). It should be noted that the Donald Trump administration has two of the most hawkish China watchers in Washington on its China advisory team, Peter Navarro and Michael Pillsbury, emphasizing the reach of the China threat narrative into the halls of power in Washington. Put another way, China's foreign policy actions of the past six years (2009-present) have increased the plausibility of the China threat narrative in the eyes of many in the United States and in Asia Pacific.

An example of this new hawkishness in the US position on China is provided by US Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr., who is reported to have told a naval conference in Australia in April 2015 that the competing territorial claims in the South China Sea have the potential to fuel "regional tensions and the potential for miscalculation." He added, "But what's really drawing a lot of concern in the here and now is the unprecedented land reclamation currently being conducted by China" (Denyer 2015). It is important to note that Vietnam and the Philippines began this pattern of island building before China got into the game. As Mira Rapp-Hooper of the Center for a New American Security has noted,

This history matters a great deal, because what Washington and its friends and allies may see as punctuated, lightning-speed construction is likely viewed in China as a perfectly legitimate game of catch-up.... What sets China's activities apart, however, is that Beijing has been dramatically changing the size and structure of existing physical land features, while other claimants have built upon or modified existing land masses. (Denyer 2015)

However, while Beijing insists that it is not militarizing these new facilities, military personnel have been observed working on some of them, and military aircraft have been seen using newly constructed runways. In fact, in December 2016, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative published a report that stated, "China appears to have built significant point-defense capabilities, in the form of large anti-aircraft guns and probable close-in weapons systems (CIWS), at each of its outposts in the Spratly Islands," which "show that Beijing is serious about defense of its artificial islands in case of an armed contingency in the South China Sea. Among other things, they would be the last line of defense against cruise missiles launched by the United States or others against these soon-to-be-operational air bases" (Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative 2016). Moreover, in early 2016, James Clapper, director of national intelligence in the United States, said that China will soon have significant capacity to quickly project substantial offensive military power to the region.... China has established the necessary infrastructure to project military capabilities in the South China Sea beyond that which is required for point defense of its outposts.... These capabilities could include the deployment of modern fighter aircraft, surface-to-air missiles (SAMS), and coastal defense cruise missiles, as well as increased presence of People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) surface combatants and China Coast Guard (CCG) large patrol ships. (Clapper 2016)

In fact, as another report has noted, in early 2016, two HQ-9 surface-to-air missile batteries were installed on Woody Island, one of the islands China occupies in the Paracel Islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam. The HQ-9 has a range of 200 km, covering the entire Paracel Island area (Collin 2016). Clapper (2016) notes that an airfield the Chinese built on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands is currently operational and is large enough to host any kind of military aircraft the Chinese currently field.

In another development in late 2016, while the US Navy's Bowditch was using an underwater drone (unmanned underwater vehicle) to collect scientific data (the US reported), a Chinese warship approached the Bowditch and intercepted and picked up the drone. The event took place well outside China's nine-dash line, as near as 500 yards from the Bowditch, some 500 miles from China's coast, and only 50 miles from Subic Bay in the Philippines, which is home to large US and Philippine naval installations (Cooper 2016). While the drone was returned to the United States a few days later, given that the incident took place in international waters far from China and very close to the Philippines and a US Navy base there, the United States considered the drone's seizure to be a very provocative act. All of these developments are of grave concern to China's neighbors and to the United States.

Bismarck or Wilhelm?

The choice facing China today is whether it will follow the precedent set by Otto von Bismarck, which is clearly its stated goal in its new type of great power relations (xinxing daguo guanxi) and peaceful rise and harmonious world narratives, or whether it will pursue a policy of military growth, territorial and/or maritime claims expansionism, and a relative disregard for the concerns of its neighbors, a la Kaiser Wilhelm.

A growing number of analysts and policymakers in the United States and several of China's neighbors have concluded it is indeed the latter, and this includes Trump advisers Navarro and Pillsbury. They see China as trying to take advantage of liberal US, European, and regional leaders' naivete/trust while seeking to dominate the South China Sea, building up its military power so as to challenge and replace the United States as the regional power to be contended with, in all things seeking maximum advantage for itself (Navarro 2015; Pillsbury 2016). It is difficult to know what Chinese policymakers think, but this is certainly a perspective that the United States, Europe, and China's neighbors must consider. On the other hand, it is certainly possible that Chinese policymakers see themselves as having chosen the Bismarckian path while unintentionally signaling to the United States and China's neighbors the Wilhelmine one. As work by Peter Gries (2005) and others on what is known as fundamental attribution error (FAE) has made clear, actors often ascribe to themselves benign intentions, which they assume are obvious to others, while assigning to those same others intentions less benign. In my own work I have found FAE at work in Chinese policymaking historically, and this may indeed be at work in this case as well, though I have not done the interviews and casework in this situation (Moore 2010). To ascertain the role of FAE, one would have to conduct extensive interviews with experts and policymakers, ideally on both sides. While I have not done that in this case, I see the same patterns in evidence that I found in my study of the 1999 US bombing of China's embassy in Belgrade. Chinese interlocutors and government spokespersons seem to believe their narratives, and Americans, Vietnamese, and Filipinos believe theirs, and any dissonance between their own views and what they hear from the other side tends to be ascribed to conspiracy theories and attributed to ill intent and poor character on the other side. Such distrust abounds as it regards how competing claimants/actors in the South China Sea view each other. As FAE shows us, in the end, perceptions are as important, if not more important, than "facts," so if China's intentions are benign, the alarm and dismay expressed by China's neighbors should be of great concern to Beijing.

To be sure, the importance of perceptions runs both ways. Vietnam's and the Philippines' unilateral island-building efforts have not helped engender a multilateral UNCLOS-based approach to the South China Sea. In fact, their actions have led China to believe it must move quickly or lose forever any advantages it might gain in the South China Sea. They too would be well served to cease and desist from further island building and would be wise to roll back what they have already done if they hope to see Beijing do the same. So too should the United States consider how its actions contribute to China's sense of strategic encirclement and siege mentality, considering carefully how to avoid moves that needlessly provoke Beijing's ire in the South China Sea, as Mark Valencia (2017) has pointed out.

In any event, The Hague Tribunal ruling (Permanent Court of Arbitration 2016) was an important opportunity for Beijing to show the world that, (1) it is a responsible stakeholder who takes international law seriously, and (2) it is sincere about its stated intention of rising peacefully. Yet to date, Beijing has not taken the opportunity to do so, rejecting the authority and rulings of the court. Let there be no mistake--the Tribunal ruling was a grave blow to China's ambitions in the South China Sea. China's nine-dash line has been deemed as being entirely without legal merit by the court. Beijing's takeover of the Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island in Chinese discourse) and its island-building activities have been said to be incongruent with international law. Finally, its fishing and island-building activities were said to be extremely deleterious to the health of the natural environment in the South China Sea. China's policies in the South China Sea have not been viewed favorably by its neighbors, by the international community writ large, or by the judges on the Tribunal. China may continue to press forward with its current South China Sea project, ignoring the PCA ruling as it has thus far chosen to do. Continuing to do so will come at a very high cost in terms of China's international standing and the likelihood that the United States and its neighbors will perceive these policies as an important reason to believe China will be a threat to them.

Given China's statements of desiring harmony and a peaceful rise (and these notions are found in Xi's recent speech at the Nineteenth Party Congress), along with China's geographical centrality and proximal power, the onus is on China to act responsibly, benignly, if its desires are sincere. If China is sincere it must bring into harmony its South China Sea policies and its grand strategy. At present the two are not in harmony, at least in the eyes of the United States, Vietnam, the Philippines, several other ASEAN states, and the experts on the Hague Tribunal. Given the stakes, China's ultimate choices as it considers its South China Sea policy will have epochal significance for regional and, most likely, global peace and security.


Gregory J. Moore is head of the School of International Studies at the University of Nottingham, Ningbo, China, where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in international relations. His research interests include international relations, IR theory, international security, methods, Chinese foreign policy, US foreign policy, Sino-US relations, East Asian IR/security, foreign policy analysis, and the North Korean nuclear issue. His articles have appeared in journals such as International Studies Review, Asian Security, Foreign Policy Analysis, International Relations of the Asia-Pacific, Asian Perspective, the Journal of Contemporary China, and the Journal of Chinese Political Science. He is currently working on a book on Sino-US relations and has completed an edited volume titled North Korean Nuclear Operationality: Regional Security and Non-Proliferation (2014) and a book on the international relations thought of Reinhold Niebuhr (under review). He is a member of the (US) National Committee on US-China Relations and a senior fellow at the China Policy Institute, University of Nottingham. He can be reached at

(1.) Among other things, the Philippines charges that China has illegally occupied the Scarborough Shoal (aka Panatag, or Huangyan Island), which lies well inside the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Philippines and is over 500 miles from China.

(2.) I would argue that this includes the Philippines, even under Duterte, who unleashed much anti-American vitriol. He has not asked the Americans to leave, nor have his generals appeared to be as anti-American as he has.

(3.) Discussion at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, Beijing (June 2008).

(4.) In other words, "It's going to be my way, or you can just take the highway out of town."

(5.) What is meant by China's "support" for North Korea is simply Beijing's unwillingness to go along with South Korea and the West in calls for condemnations of Pyongyang's behavior in either of these incidents. In other words, my argument is that Beijing's unwillingness to condemn North Korea in the face of overwhelming evidence that North Korea's actions deserve condemnation equals at least tacit support.


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Caption: Figure 1 South China Sea
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Title Annotation:Otto von Bismarck and Kaiser Wilhelm
Author:Moore, Gregory J.
Publication:Asian Perspective
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:0PACI
Date:Apr 1, 2018
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