China’s Ambition in the South China Sea: Hegemonic Power Versus Maritime Order

On Thursday 19th May, Professor Katherine Morton gave a public lecture at the University of Copenhagen, hosted by the Political Sciences department and ThinkChina.dk

Abstract

Over the past four decades, conflicts in the South China Sea have waxed and waned in response to regional security dynamics. Today, the complex interplay between rising nationalism, resource competition, and geopolitical rivalry between the United States and China means that this semi enclosed maritime space is now at the centre of an unfolding crisis that threatens to undermine regional as well as global stability. For many analysts, China’s assertive behaviour is a major driver of conflict. A dominant narrative of Chinese expansionism now prevails that assumes the Xi Jinping leadership is primarily concerned with achieving maritime hegemony at any cost. Yet, a deeper analysis of the legal, strategic, and political dimensions of China’s evolving maritime ambition reveals a more complex pattern of confrontation and engagement.
What explains China’s hardening stance over its maritime claims? Is the Chinese leadership intent on countering US primacy in the South China Sea? And how can we best understand its maritime renaissance, especially in relation to the existing maritime order? This presentation will address these questions by examining Chinese motivations in the context of the ongoing transformation of maritime East Asia.