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JSPES, Vol. 46, No. 3-4 (Fall-Winter 2021)
pp. 195-224

Forward into the Past: How an Historical Face Has Developed in China’s South China Sea Claims

Jia Deng
Nanjing University, China

The historical narrative supporting China’s claim of sovereignty over large swathes of the South China Sea (SCS) has advanced since the late 1990s, a time when China’s economic and military power began to surge so very noticeably. How does China’s rising power factor into this? Despite international disapproval and criticism, China is confident of its historical entitlement to dominion in the SCS. How does China’s economic and military clout relate to this? Reforms in China not only released its economic potential and brought about naval modernization, but they have also provoked a nationalist revival. China’s assertion of its historical rights in the South China Sea is part and parcel of this nationalist revival. China’s appropriation of the SCS invokes a romanticized recollection of China’s past as the Middle Kingdom. In that way China’s SCS claims are inward-looking as well as outward-looking.