China’s Sea Power Aspirations and Strategic Behaviour in the South China Sea from the Theoretical Perspective of Identity Construction

Part of the Global Power Shift book series (GLOBAL)


This paper seeks to place China’s territorial disputes in the South China Sea within the context of its aspirations to develop itself as a global power and a sea power in particular. Most studies on China’s great power ambition and its conduct in the South China Sea are underpinned by Realist theories. While Realism offers some useful insights into China’s foreign policy, it is inadequate in elucidating the role of identity in shaping Chinese security discourse and strategic behaviour. Drawing on Constructivism and social identity theory, the paper argues that China’s recent activities in the South China Sea should be perceived as part of an on-going process of identity construction. Since 2009 Chinese leaders and policy elites have been striving to construct a much more self-assured and potent national identity for China that would commensurate with its growing economic strength and military capabilities. This paper demonstrates how the development of Chinese maritime capabilities is inextricably linked to Beijing’s efforts to construct the identity of a great power that has full command of the sea in its surrounding areas and beyond. Thus, China’s sea power aspirations should be understood in relation to Chinese leaders’ apprehensions of potential US intervention in the maritime disputes in the South China Sea (and East China Sea) and their attempts to reshape the US-led regional security order.


South China Sea China United States Sea power aspirations Strategic behaviour Identity Great power identity Identity construction Security discourse Security order Maritime power 


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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Arts, Professional and Social StudiesLiverpool John Moores UniversityLiverpoolUK

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