M. Taylor Fravel advises U.S. government officials on South China Sea disputes

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Thanks to a land reclamation project on a set of rocks and reefs in the middle of the sea, M. Taylor Fravel’s research is much in demand these days. His research isn’t about marine biology or civil engineering, however. Fravel’s analysis is sought out because the sea in question is the South China Sea and his expertise is in Chinese military strategy and security policy.

The volatile combination of China’s military buildup in the Spratly Islands and multiple, highly contested claims to the bits of land, including claims by U.S. allies, has Fravel consulting with top U.S. government officials.
The world’s most complicated territory dispute
Fravel, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Political Science and a member of the Security Studies Program, has been studying China’s policy in the South China Sea for more than a decade, long before China began turning rocks and reefs into islands with airfields. The islands, and the valuable mineral, fishing, and shipping route rights that come with them, are claimed by China and also by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan. “The Spratly Islands conflict is the world’s most complicated territorial dispute,” says Fravel. “There’s no other dispute like this in the world.”
The dispute gave rise to Fravel’s doctoral thesis at Stanford University. After reading about China’s claims to the Spratly Islands, he decided to examine the occasions when China used force in its territorial disputes. Conventional wisdom held that China had few disputes and that it pursued its claims aggressively. But when he examined Chinese government documents, Fravel found that China has been involved in more than a few disputes — 23 since the Communist Party took power in 1949. China settled 17 of them peacefully, and in 15 of those the country compromised on the contested land. “It was a pattern of behavior that I didn’t expect to find,” he says.

Read more: http://news.mit.edu/2015/m-taylor-fravel-advises-us-government-officials-south-china-sea-disputes-1211

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