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• T H E C H I N A J O U R N A L , No. 78
PLA planning for out-of-area deployments and focuses on the Chinese navy’s
missions to counter piracy in the Gulf of Aden. Again, the authors have to admit
that little is discussed in open sources and that assessments are speculative. The
sources at least identify difficulties with logistics and communications that would
have to be rectified if deployments to other areas are planned (341). In summary,
this is a necessary source book but one limited by the difficulty of conducting research on this topic.
Leszek Buszynski
Australian National University
The South China Sea: A Crucible of Regional Cooperation or ConflictMaking Sovereignty Claims?, by C. J. Jenner and Tran Truong Thuy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. v+370 pp. A$180.00 (cloth).
The short answer to the book title’s question is “both.” The South China Sea is
both an area of cooperation and conflict, now more than ever. The long answers
are provided by a host of distinguished scholars including Geoffrey Till, Rodolfo C.
Severino, Renato Cruz De Castro, Mark J. Valencia, Alice Ba, Ian Storey, Bonnie
Glaser, Vijay Sakhuja, Nguyen Hung Son, Stein Tønnesson, Nguyen Thi Lan Anh,
Erik Franckx, Marco Benatar, Robert C. Beckman, Leonardo Bernard, Carlyle A.
Thayer, and Sukjoon Yoon, along with a posthumous contribution by a pioneer
researcher in the field, Jon M. Van Dyke. The editor C. J. Jenner also contributed
to four chapters.
There is widespread agreement throughout the book on the key factors affecting the context for conflict or cooperation around the South China Sea. The dynamo of global economic growth is shifting from the North Atlantic to East Asia.
United States’ defense strategy is seen to be moving toward low-cost, low-risk,
strike-and-leave operations increasingly dependent on financial support and logistical assistance from regional allies and partners. America looks unlikely to
intervene militarily in any naval skirmish between China and other territorial
claimants. The coastal states of the South China Sea have failed to create an effective maritime security institution. China has derailed US efforts to form an ad hoc
coalition of Southeast Asian countries that might constrain China’s expansionist
ambitions in the South China Sea. In sum, these authors generally see the balance
of power in the South China Sea shifting from the United States to China, and they
examine the implications for maritime security.
The central drivers of the South China Sea disputes are widely seen to be conflicting maritime boundary claims, increasing competition over maritime resources,
and increasing nationalist pressure in domestic politics. The most likely flash
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• 139
points involve drilling for oil or fishing in contested waters as well as US intelligence gathering in China’s offshore exclusive economic zones (EEZs). The extensive naval modernization programs in the region are not inherently threatening but
may become so without more confidence-building measures, such as hotlines and
military-to-military contacts, including joint patrols and exercises. According to a
number of the contributors, the most important way to improve conflict resolution
is for China to clarify its nine-dash claim to the South China Sea.
A few authors assert that the South China Sea disputes are not impossible to
resolve and show how conflict-resolution mechanisms might be established. Erik
Franckx and Marco Benatar find that “almost all of the threats to maritime security . . . can be contained and managed if the provisions of UNCLOS are applied in good faith” (185). Other contributors note that mutually beneficial economic ties among countries around the South China Sea give them ample
incentive to cooperate and compromise in settling their differences. Even where
boundaries cannot be permanently resolved, the parties in dispute are obligated
to negotiate provisional arrangements to provide a temporary solution for sustainable resource management.
On the whole, the book provides several distinctive and illuminating analyses,
as well as durable insights, but suffers the familiar limitations of edited volumes
about current political topics: overlapping and outdated coverage. Most of the
chapters were written a few years before the July 2016 decisions of the Permanent
Court of Arbitration (PCA) in the case of The Philippines v. China. The PCA ruled
that the UNCLOS provisions granting coastal states 12 nautical miles of territorial
seas and 200 nautical miles of EEZs superseded any historical claims by China or
Taiwan. It also ruled that none of the rocks, shoals, or low-tide elevations were
islands and could not generate any EEZ or continental shelf claims. Further, China’s artificial island construction was viewed as unwarranted and also in violation
of UNCLOS environmental provisions. The tribunal’s rulings were final and binding and have been endorsed by all other claimant states. However, the PCA had no
enforcement authority or capability. These unprecedented rulings and China’s
negative response to them have changed the situation in the South China Sea substantially and reduced the relevance of many of the book’s chapters correspondingly. The election of the Trump administration in the United States may further
change the strategic balance in the region in ways that will quickly outdate sections of the book.
The current situation provides only limited options for settling maritime boundary disputes. Some of the book’s chapters examine these options in detail. For example, Stein Tønnesson examines the 2004 Sino-Vietnamese Tonkin Gulf agreements on boundary delimitation and joint fisheries management and considers
how this might provide a model for other boundary disputes. So far, this is China’s
only maritime boundary accord with any of its neighbors. It is a clear example
where China has negotiated substantial compromises over maritime boundaries
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• T H E C H I N A J O U R N A L , No. 78
when conditions were favorable. It would have been interesting to learn more about
the critical first step in the process in the early 1950s when China changed its 11dash line claim to a nine-dash line claim, deleting the two dashes in the Tonkin
The book provides little information about the early twentieth-century development of China’s claims in the South China Sea. In recent historical work, Bill
Hayton finds that they are not ancient claims but quite modern. The first known
claim to James Shoal, the southern-most feature within the nine-dash line, did
not appear until 1936. The claims developed in response to domestic political crises among contending factions in China in the 1920s and 1930s, a time of rising
nationalist sentiments.
The most cogent and concise response to the book title’s question can be
found in Carlyle Thayer’s chapter on China’s naval modernization and US strategic rebalancing: “Southeast Asia is ripe for continued great power rivalry but
not armed conflict between China, a rising military power, and the United States,
the upholder of the status quo. These two great powers will continue both to cooperate and contend. The security environment will continue to be characterized
by intractable sovereignty disputes, rising resource nationalism, and potentially
destabilizing regional force modernization programs” (240).
David Rosenberg
Middlebury College
China’s Crisis Behavior: Political Survival and Foreign Policy after the Cold
War, by Kai He. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. vii+174 pp.
A$155.00 (cloth).
This book offers a refreshing blend of substantive knowledge and theoretical insight. It represents a new style of scholarship on China’s foreign relations, demonstrating not only an analyst’s mastery of the Chinese language and primary
sources but also familiarity with international relations theories and the logic of
social science inquiry and a command of appropriate methodologies.
Kai He introduces a “political survival–prospect model” to analyze how Chinese leaders have acted in eight “near crises” during the post–Cold War era. These
cases occurred when Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao headed the Chinese government
and included the US bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, the collision of
a US reconnaissance aircraft with a Chinese interceptor off Hainan Island, and
episodes involving China’s and Japan’s contested sovereignty over the Diaoyu/
Senkaku Islands. The final chapter takes up briefly two episodes that happened
early in Xi Jinping’s administration, which are examined to probe the validity of
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