Chinese Coercion in the South China Sea: Resolve and Costs

Ketian Zhang
Content Type
Policy Brief
Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
China’s coercive behavior in the post–Cold War period suggests three patterns. First, China uses coercion when it wants to establish a reputation for resolve. Second, China has been a cautious bully, resorting to coercion only infrequently. Third, when China perceives the “geopolitical backlash cost” of military coercion to be high, it chooses instead to use sanctions and grayzone coercion. (“Geopolitical backlash cost” refers here to the possibility that the target state will seek to balance against China, with the potential for U.S. military involvement.) When China perceives the geopolitical backlash cost to be low, it is more likely to use military coercion.
Sovereignty, Power Politics, Geopolitics, Economy
Political Geography
China, Asia, South China Sea