US Foreign Policy

Realising The Great Change: Beijing’s South China Sea Lawfare Strategy

Too often, foreign policy analysts have focused principally on the hard power component of China’s ambitions in the South China Sea.

This article was originally published in 9DASHLINE.

In June 2018, President Xi Jinping spoke at the CCP Central Work Conference on Foreign Affairs, where he stated that the world is currently experiencing a “once-in-a-century great change” (百年未有之大变局). Following this speech, the concept quickly became a prominent dictum in contemporary PRC foreign policy propaganda. This “great change” is understood to refer to the shift from the current US-dominated international system to a more multipolar system that better accommodates China and other developing nations. It is in part driven by a period of instability, launched with the 2008 financial crisis and now exacerbated by the pandemic, which in Xi’s words has “brought the world into a phase of fluidity and transformation”. Although this trend has not yet displaced the US from its hegemonic status, it provides an important strategic opportunity to China and creates favourable conditions for China’s national rejuvenation.

PRC policymakers and scholars view the construction of a stronger domestic and international legal apparatus as critical to taking advantage of these geopolitical trends. Last November, the CCP officially established “Xi Jinping Thought on the Rule of Law”, which is meant to guide and promote law-based governance in China. While a significant component of the guidelines for “Xi Jinping Thought” is inward-facing, it has important implications for China’s foreign affairs. In a recent essay, Politburo member Wang Chen wrote that amidst the “great changes”, China must improve upon the “many shortcomings and weaknesses” of its international legal apparatus and strengthen mechanisms to “effectively respond to challenges and prevent risks”. In the People’s Daily last month, the Dean of Renmin University’s School of Law argued that China must enhance its ability through international law to formulate rules, set the policy agenda, and shape public opinion. 

Read the full article in 9DASHLINE.

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