OPINION | China’s Militarization of the "South China Sea" - A Compellence Strategy

OPINION | China’s Militarization of the "South China Sea" - A Compellence Strategy

By Amrita Jash

FEATURED | China’s Militarization of the "South China Sea" - A Compellence Strategy by Amrita Jash



Chinas revisionist land reclamation activities in the South China Sea is rapidly changing the status-quo of the Asia-Pacific region. Chinas such unilateral militarist actions in order to concretise its imaginary nine-dashed lines have raised the probability index of China threat against Chinas rise. And moreover, China’s recent proclamation stating : The South China Sea, as the name indicates, is a sea area that belongs to China. And the sea from the Han dynasty a long time ago where the Chinese people have been working and producing from the sea- resonates Chinas strengthened possessive attitude towards SCS, adding a new thread to the territorial dispute. With such power dynamics at play, Chinas much reiterated charm offensive seeks to fade away with each aggressive  and assertive Chinese move- making Asia-Pacific a theatre of great power politics. In this context, Chinas strong military posture in the disputed waters of the South China Sea is reflective of the causal weakness in United States long dominated hegemony as practiced by its hub-and-spoke alliance system in the region. In drawing the parallels between the rise and fall of these two great power in the Asia-Pacific, it can be stated that unlike United States deterrence strategy, China functions with a compellence strategy- making it more strong and influential.

What makes Chinas growing militarist posture a compellence strategic move is the fact that it is aimed at stopping the opponents actions. That is, in this case, it is a direct response to Americas pivot policy in Asia. It is based on active defence and aims to change the status-quo of the Asia-Pacific region by replacing the US dominance with that of Chinas monopoly- not just militarily, but also economically and diplomatically. Given this, Chinas strategic construction and militarization of the artificial islands clearly signal Chinas inherent motive to change the status-quo of the region by creating Chinas territorial supremacy against Americas off-shore balancing. And, most importantly, Chinas militarist posture is equated with coercive diplomacy wherein any defiance can levy severe costs and that compliance can result in benefits. Therefore, by constructing these artificial islands, China is practicing a denial strategy against its opponents which has greater impact than inflicting punishment.

Here, the clarification to this lies in the understanding of Chinas changing military strategy  vis-a-vis the maritime domain, which is primarily aimed at winning informationized local wars by maritime preparation for military struggle.  That is, Chinas key ambition is to build a blue water navy. The 2015 Defence White Paper on China’s Military Strategy, clearly points that a long-standing task for China [is] to safeguard its maritime rights and interests. In doing so, the PLA Navy (PLAN) will imbibe greater role in shifting its focus from offshore water defence to combining it with open seas protection- taking a shift from defence to offence. Highlighting the crucial maritime tensions, the white paper makes a strong pronouncement of Chinas maritime strategy by stating that: The traditional mentality that land outweighs sea must be abandoned, and great importance has to be attached to managing the seas and oceans and protecting maritime rights and interests.  Drawing from this, it can therefore be rightly pointed that rather than just being a sea denial strategy, Chinas land reclamation activities confirm Chinas sea control ambition. Wherein, the ambition is to foster complete control over the territory and also deny the free navigation in the important sea lanes of communication. In this changing scenario of balance of power in the Asia-Pacific, the ongoing land reclamation can be followed by creating as Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the South China Sea (SCS)- as the revisionist actions strongly call for Chinas assertive ADIZ move in the future. Therefore, more than a deterrence, Chinas military posture denotes a strategy of compellence.

In this case, it is also important to note that the United States  and its allies have failed to adequately counter Chinas growing militarist posture in the South China Sea. For the uncertain consequences of defying China has compelled US from posing a strong counterweight. Rather China on the other end, seems to grow bigger and stronger in the region in all dimensions. Wherein, it is just not limited to military muscle flexing, but China has succeeded in tilting the balance of power in the region both economically and diplomatically. This can be traced in Chinas growing clout vis-a-vis the Asian Infrastructure Development Bank (AIIB),New Silk Road Diplomacy by creating One Belt, One Road and the  Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership- offensives that directly challenge United States long standing supremacy- resulting into a new kind of balance of power.


Hence, in the troubled waters of the South China Sea, Chinas coercive diplomacy will only grow stronger with time if not weak- thereby, calling the final shots in the test of time.

About the Author:

Amrita Jash -K-5665-2015 is Editor-in-Chief of IndraStra Global and is a Doctoral Research Scholar at the Centre for East Asian Studies (Chinese Division), School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.  
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