State Strategy in Territorial Conflict: A Conceptual Analysis of China’s Strategy in the South China Sea
- Contemporary Southeast Asia: A Journal of International and Strategic Affairs
- ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute
- Volume 37, Number 1, April 2015
- pp. 85-108
- Additional Information
This article critically analyses an intuitive and influential conceptual framework by which to understand state strategy in territorial conflicts. According to this framework, a state in a territorial dispute can pursue one of three general strategies: threaten or use force; offer territorial concessions; or delay. This article argues that it is problematic to regard these three candidate strategies as mutually exclusive. It is argued that not only can a strategy of escalation be compatible with one of delay, but many uses of force can be employed instrumentally in service of delaying. The framework, this article contends, does not so much capture “strategy” as it does certain aspects — or outcomes — of strategy, which while appropriate for certain analytical tasks is less so for others. The 2012 Scarborough Shoal incident is examined and China’s strategy during the event is scrutinized with a view towards assessing the strengths and weaknesses of applying the framework to an analysis of narrower scope. Lastly, it is argued that a framework for conceptualizing state strategy in territorial disputes should not be confined to three alternatives; it should be more broadly constructed, allowing for more nuance and taking seriously all the domains of statecraft.