Date of Graduation

Spring 2012


Master of Science in Defense and Strategic Studies


Defense and Strategic Studies

Committee Chair

Robert Joseph


United States, China, strategy, motivations, PLA, Anti-Access, Area Denial, UNCLOS, policy, ASEAN, South China Sea

Subject Categories

Defense and Security Studies


The purpose of this thesis is to explore the competing sovereignty claims in the South China Sea and the strategies used to defend those claims. The nations involved in the South China Sea dispute have amplified their military expenditures while confrontations at sea have become increasingly common. The People's Republic of China and the United States are the two largest regional powers and, as such, this thesis focuses on their respective policies and implementation strategies. China claims much of the South China Sea as its sovereign territory based on historical occupation and their interpretation of international law. The fear of encirclement and China's increasing dependence on sea trade also drives Chinese policy. Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines also lay claim to parts of the South China Sea and fear China may seek to control the area in the future. The United States does not recognize any of the disputants' claims as legitimate, but it does seek to increase its presence in Southeast Asia to balance China's power. Ultimately, China and the United States are deeply suspicious of each other's intentions in the South China Sea and are subsequently increasing their naval presence in the area. The United States can protect its interests and the interests of its allies by continuing its military cooperation with willing nations, increasing its ties to regional institutions, initiating voluntary exercises at sea with host nations and conducting bilateral negotiations.


© Matthew Ryan Costlow

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