China's strategy in the South China Sea has gone through considerable changes over the last decades. While multiple oscillations have occurred over short periods of time, the three‐decade‐long “trend line” has been characterized by two major inflection points. China's provocations in the mid‐1990s were followed by a transition to cooperation at the turn of the millennium, itself followed by a shift toward heavy‐handed methods since the turn of the 2010s. While each of these two “transitions” has been studied in great detail, few studies have tried to apply explanatory models to both of the transitions to assess their strength. This article fills this void in the existing literature by examining how major explanatory frameworks are distributed into two main categories – domestic and systemic – and perform in explaining China's changing strategy in the two transitions.
- South China Sea
- military power