This paper offers the first systematic assessment of the long-term continuities and changes in the PRC’s policy in the South China Sea dispute. To this end, it develops a much-needed typology of non-cooperative state actions in maritime disputes – declarative, demonstrative and coercive – and applies this to an original time series of PRC actions there since 1970. This reveals that the most significant shift in China’s behavior in the South China Sea occurred in 2007 – much earlier than most analysis assumes – and has been ongoing since that time, a finding that has important implications for understanding its causes. In particular, it disconfirms nationalist public opinion, the Global Financial Crisis, and Xi Jinping as explanations for China's assertive turn in maritime Asia. Instead, the causes appear to have been largely structural: the PRC's increased relative power in its region, together with rapidly rising resource insecurity, and the arrival of specific maritime law enforcement capabilities constructed in response to the UNCLOS regime in the 1990s. The paper also shows the key difference between China’s past and present policies to be the introduction of qualitatively coercive actions, which account for almost all the change in the PRC’s overall level of activity in the disputed area. The methods and results presented here are relevant both to government policy analysis and the academic study of maritime disputes.
Andrew Chubb researches the relationship between Chinese public opinion and PRC foreign policy, and its implications for international politics in East Asia. A graduate of the University of Western Australia, his doctoral dissertation examined the complex and evolving linkages between Chinese popular nationalism and government policy in the South China Sea. In 2012 he initiated a survey project to measure Mainland Chinese citizens' views of maritime disputes, and a blog providing translations and analysis of Chinese discourse on contentious foreign policy issues (southseaconversations.wordpress.com(link is external)).
Beyond this core focus on maritime disputes and public opinion, Andrew's research interests include strategic communication, hybridity, and Chinese Communist Party history, with publications examining the 1978-1979 Democracy Wall movement, China's shanzhai culture, military propaganda in the internet era, and the role of foreigners on PRC television. His articles can be found in the Journal of Contemporary China, Pacific Affairs, Information, Communication & Society, Foreign Policy, East Asia Forum and elsewhere.