Power Projection and Deterrence: South China Sea Disputants as Pawns in the U.S.-China Rivalry

Krista Wiegand

Thursday 25 February 2021, 11:00AM - 12:30PM AEDT (Canberra)

Wednesday 24 February 2021, 7:00PM - 8:30PM EST (Knoxville)

In the past decade, China has pursued consistent low-level provocations against disputants to seize or prevent other states’ access to islands, maritime features, and waters in the South China Sea. China could significantly benefit from access to oil, natural gas, seabed resources, and maritime trade lanes by controlling these features.

Wiegand argues that, despite China’s claims about sovereignty and maritime rights, strategic interests dominate China’s goals in the South China Sea. She argues that China is using the South China Sea disputes as part of a deliberate strategy for power projection, through intimidation of disputant states, and deterrence of the U.S. By establishing strategic depth through seizure and militarisation of artificial islands in the South China Sea, China is able both to project its own military capabilities and to increase costs that will ideally prevent any potential U.S. threats to the Chinese mainland.

China’s territorial and maritime claims strategies are therefore mainly a means for China to establish a security barrier to deter potential U.S. actions against China. Although China’s goals reflect its interests in extending territorial sovereignty and other tangible gains, its overarching, long term goals are power projection and deterrence.

Krista Wiegand is Director of the Global Security Program and Faculty Fellow at the Howard H. Baker, Jr. Center for Public Policy and Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Dr. Wiegand received her PhD in Political Science from Duke University,
and is an International Relations scholar specialising in international conflict management and political violence. She is the author of Bombs and Bullets: Governance by Islamic Terrorist and Guerrilla Groups (Routledge, 2010) and Enduring Territorial Disputes: Strategies of Bargaining, Coercive Diplomacy, and Settlement (University of Georgia Press, 2011), and is co-editor of Islands of Contention: The China-Japan Border Dispute in a Multidisciplinary Perspective (Routledge, 2015).

She is currently working on a co-authored book manuscript with Dr. Emilia Justyna Powell, about the peaceful resolution methods used to resolve territorial and maritime disputes. She is Co-Editor-in-Chief, with Dr. Brandon Prins, of the journal International Studies Quarterly, the flagship journal of the International Studies Association.

This webinar will be recorded and is the third of the Women in Asia-Pacific Security Research Seminar Series 2020-1, jointly supported by the Graduate Research & Development Network for Asian Security (GRADNAS) and the ANU Gender Institute.

This seminar series showcases the cutting-edge academic research of women in the fields of Asia-Pacific security broadly-defined, and serves as an international platform for strengthening academic exchange, feedback, and mentorship.




Wiegand, Krista E. and Jessie Hayoun Ryou Ellison. 2020. “U.S. and Chinese Strategies, International Law, and the South China Sea,” Journal of Peace & War Studies 2 (1): 49-68. 


Zhang, Ketian. 2019. “Cautious Bully: Reputation, Resolve, and Beijing’s Use of Coercion in the South China Sea,” International Security 44 (1): 117-159.


Kim, Jihyn. 2015. “Territorial Disputes in the South China Sea: Implications for Security in Asia and Beyond,” Strategic Studies Quarterly 9 (2): 107-41.

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