China's ambition in the South China Sea

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.

Katherine Morton is the Chair and Professor of China’s International Relations at the University of Sheffield. Her research addresses the domestic and international motivations behind China’s changing role in the world and the implications for foreign policy and the study of International Relations. Prior to her appointment at the University of Sheffield, she was the Associate Dean for Research at the College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University and a Senior Fellow in the Department of International Relations. Between 2013-15 she held a Senior Membership to St Antony’s College, University of Oxford and visiting fellowships to Peking University and Columbia University. Professor Morton is a regular participant in Track II security dialogues and policy briefings in the Asia Pacific. She has published widely on the environment and climate change, security and diplomacy, and civil society. Her current book project with Oxford University Press examines the likely impacts of China’s rising international status upon the evolving system of global governance, and her article on ‘China’s Ambition in the South China Sea’ will appear in International Affairs in July 2016.

This public lunch talk will be organised as a roundtable. 

Moderator: Professor Bertel Heurlin, Department of Political Science, University of Copenhagen.

The seminar is open to the public and free of charge but registration is necessary. 

Note: Sandwhiches and drinks will be served for those who register in advance!