Drivers behind Chinese Land Reclamation in the Spratlys
Bardenhagen, John A., III
Malley, Michael S.
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This thesis analyzes the motivations behind China's decision to conduct extensive land reclamation and outpost construction projects at seven locations in the Spratlys beginning in late 2013. I examined two hypotheses: first, China's actions were mainly undertaken in reaction to the actions of rival claimants and the United States; and second, China acted primarily to extend its power projection capabilities. The evidence shows that China's decision to commence reclamation projects was ultimately driven by a desire to increase its power projection capabilities in the South China Sea. This desire predates the internationalization of the South China Sea dispute in 2009 and was a result of China's military growth and its enhancements to its own power projection capabilities. The proximate cause of China's decision to begin these activities in late 2013 was a perceived need to react to its rivals, which from China's perception had grown increasingly willing to confront China on its South China Sea sovereignty claims. Ultimately, whether China continues pursuit of enhanced power projection capabilities will be determined by how China perceives the threat environment and the actions of others. Continued perceived provocations from China's rivals may drive China toward further enhancement of its military power projection capabilities.
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