The South China Sea as an Echo Chamber of Chinese Foreign and Security Policy

Scott Romaniuk, Tobias Burgers

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review



The South China Sea (SCS) has long been one of the primary security interests of the People's Republic of China's (PRC, hereafter China). As early as 1958, through its “Declaration of the Government of the People's Republic of China on China's Territorial Sea,” China claimed parts of the SCS through the infamous nine-dash line. Throughout the ensuing decades, mostly minor hostilities occurred and China was unable to increase its power in the waters significantly. Instead, the SCS was something of a phoney, mainly diplomatic, conflict that only occasionally turned violent. The region featured conflicts based on limited escalation, though with significant pressure-potential for all actors engaged. However, over the past decade-and-a-half, foremost under the leadership of Xi Jinping, China has sought to abandon Deng's mantle of “hiding its strength and biding its time.” China has, in the SCS at least, since 2009 when it declared its sovereignty over the seas, embarked on a tour de force, seeking political, economic, and military control over the strategic waterway. China has been sought to achieve these goals almost entirely through the application “salami-slicing.” Now widely applied by the Chinese military, paramilitary, and civil actors, salami-slicing is a “strategy that employs a series of incremental actions, none of which by itself is a casus belli, to gradually change the status quo in China's favor.” The SCS has remained a hotbed of this strategy and can be considered one, if not the core, area in which China has employed this approach the longest, most consistently, and efficiently. Through a strategy that appears to have been too successful, China has established a clear position of dominance and secured the upper hand vis-à-vis the other regional claimants, and has put non-regional actors, without a direct claim on the SCS, on the defensive.

Accordingly, the SCS has become one of the anchors, if not the leading anchor, of China's newly assertive foreign and security policy behaviour. The combination of its importance, its longitude – running well over a decade – and its success, makes the SCS an ideal case study of its foreign and security policy, notably under Xi. It offers clues and lessons on Chinese tactics, strategies, methods of operations, political goals, and reactions to what the ruling party in China has called “interference” from other actors.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSecurity, Strategy, and Military Dynamics in the South China Sea: Cross-National Perspectives
EditorsGordon Houlden, Scott N. Romaniuk, Nong Hong
Place of PublicationBristol
PublisherBristol University Press
ISBN (Electronic)978-1529213478
ISBN (Print)978-1529213454
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jul 2021


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