Chinese Assertiveness in the South China Sea: Power Sources, Domestic Politics, and Reactive Foreign Policy.

AuthorHayton, Bill
PositionBook review

Chinese Assertiveness in the South China Sea: Power Sources, Domestic Politics, and Reactive Foreign Policy. By Richard Q. Turcsanyi. Berlin: Springer, 2017. Hardcover: 183pp.

Despite its title, this is not really a book about the South China Sea dispute. It is, to quote the author, "a project developing a conceptualization of power suitable for analytical use in international relations" (p. 16). It is about the relationship between China's growing "power"--and the majority of the book is devoted to ways of assessing that power--and the state's actions. Turcsanyi regards the South China Sea "as an important playground" (p. 2) where China's policy can be appraised.

Turcsanyi's book is an extension of his PhD at Masaryk University and follows a traditional thesis format with an opening chapter on research design. There is, unfortunately, no index or bibliography. He has been content to borrow his empirical understanding of developments in the region from secondary sources. The analysis is therefore dependent on the accuracy of those sources.

Turcsanyi's account of the 2012 Scarborough Shoal standoff is largely referenced to a Master's thesis by O. Zachrisen, and his account of the 2013 siege at Second Thomas Shoal and the 2014 oil rig confrontation between China and Vietnam depends mainly upon articles from The Diplomat website. He does not present evidence of independent verification of those accounts nor of any supplementary investigation of the wider decision-making context. No information is sourced to personal interviews or communications. The superstructure of the book is therefore founded upon this rather thin evidential base.

Turcsanyi's argument is based upon an analysis of seven episodes in the recent history of the South China Sea--including the three mentioned above. I would compare this with, for example, Andrew Chubb's recent PhD thesis at the University of Western Australia. Chubb constructed a detailed database of events in the South China Sea going back to 1970 and interrogated a wide range of primary and secondary sources, including those in Chinese, and came to rather different conclusions. Chubb shows a pattern of escalating assertiveness dating back decades. Turcsanyi believes "China actually started to act assertively in the SCS in 2011" (p. 170).

Turcsanyi's main conclusion is that "China (most often) acts assertively only after it is given a pretext" (p. 174). "Reactive assertiveness" was first defined in 2013 by...

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