South China Sea: China’s Theatre For Hegemonic Ambitions?


An analysis of any -or all- of China’s decisions and announcements over the past two years points to the same argument: China is working to establish itself as a global superpower with no competitors. From China’s well-known territorial claims in the South China Sea to its military and technological advancements, the country has invested heavily towards cementing its position as an international force to be reckoned with.

Adding to China’s ever-expanding power is its position in global trade markets. At present, China is the number one trade partner for as many 125 countries- a fact that ensures that China’s bilateral ties and defense arrangements with or around these states continue to be protected. And a direct implication of these trade alliances is that when so many states’ economies depend directly on China, they are less likely to challenge China’s political decisions; a fact that Beijing has undoubtedly used to its advantage. The history of politics stands testament to the fact that power and economics go hand in hand, and by that line of reasoning, it is clear to see why China’s military muscle-flexing has become all-the-more pronounced in recent times.

China Optimizes Optics

If there is one thing that China indisputably does better than many other states, it is this: Beijing understands and works optics and public opinion with great effectiveness in the pursuit of its political and defense agendas. Even as security experts point out that China’s military capacity still trails behind that of the United States, the amount of time and resources that China spends on publicizing its military growth ensures that both the domestic audience and the international one are constantly reminded that China is becoming increasingly more powerful by the day.

In September this year, China organized a military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and China’s victory over Japan. Held on September 03, 2015, in Beijing, the parade has been interpreted to be as much of a public relations exercise as it was a commemorative event. By showcasing China’s arsenal of defense systems, weapons, military equipment and combat-ready vehicles, Beijing sent out a clear message to the world and the local audience: China’s military might is on the up and up.

That China is flexing its military muscles, and unabashedly so, is no secret. However, the more pressing issue here is what motivates China to do so: is China’s military posturing limited to singular cases where it hopes to achieve a specific end for a specific reason (case in point, the South China Sea) or do all these seemingly-isolated incidents point towards a greater pursuit for ultimate power (once again evidenced by the case of the South China Sea)?

China-Australia Dialogue Focuses On Regional And Global Issues

China recently participated in the yearly Australia-China High-Level Dialogue organized in Sydney. As per the Chatham House regulations, media coverage of the discussions is allowed but the press is not allowed to attribute comments to specific speakers and sources. The 2015 Dialogue, while essentially focused on Australia-China relations, shed some much-needed light on how China intends to leverage its military might.

The event is a state-run enterprise that facilitates interaction between officials as well as industry leaders, opinion gatekeepers, media persons and academicians from both countries. This year has brought with it “an unprecedented level of co-operation,” as noted by a Chinese delegate and the dialogue celebrated the Australian-Chinese free trade agreement to be implemented next month.

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