The dragon in the sea: a case study of Chinese foreign policy in the South China Sea.

Date of Award


Document Type



College of Liberal Arts

Degree Name

Bachelor in Arts


The South China Sea is a territory of ongoing international dispute because of its multiple overlapping sovereignty claims, valuable resources, and highly traveled sea-lanes that are crucial to all states' economic prosperity. As China, an aspiring regional hegemon, continues to assert its claim over approximately ninety percent of the Sea, the international relations schools of Realism and Neoliberalism attempt to demystify China's contradicting behavior, as it simultaneously militarizes man-made islands in the South China Sea and verbally assures the international community of its peaceful rise through its increased institutional involvement. While both international relations theories credibly explain China's actions in the Sea, both fail to recognize the importance of domestic factors such as economic development, public opinion, and Chinese nationalism. The domestic politics perspective asserts that these internal factors influence China's late authoritarian regime, which is circumscribed by the maintenance of the Chinese Communist Party's legitimacy among Chinese citizens. Using examples from recent history involving China's altercations with other South China Sea claimants, China's interactions with the United States, and also the opinions of the Chinese public, I argue that the domestic politics perspective best explains China's actions in the South China Sea as a result of its leadership's sensitivity to domestic demands.