Sovereignty regimes in the South China Sea: assessing contemporary Sino-US relations

Steven Rolf, John Agnew

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)
787 Downloads (Pure)


This article outlines how a materialist understanding of foreign policy predicated on contrasting sovereignty regimes might be applied to current conflicts between China and the United States and its allies in the South China Sea. A stark divergence between liberal and realist commentary, policy prescriptions, and policy practices has emerged in both China and the United States. We provide a critical overview of the dispute before arguing that these disparities are, at root, symptoms of a material contradiction between the benefits and risks of economic interdependence and territorial expansionism. These symptoms are consequently founded upon a real-world paradox, refracted through fundamentally different modalities of practicing state sovereignty, and will ultimately be resolved politically. An intensification of interstate rivalry is fast becoming the outcome of a period of unprecedented economic interconnectedness, to which these variegated sovereignty regimes are contributing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)249-273
Number of pages24
JournalEurasian Geography and Economics
Issue number2
Early online date23 Sept 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Sino-US relations
  • China
  • South China Sea
  • IR / IPE
  • Political Economy
  • Sovereignty Regimes
  • Geography
  • Economics
  • Uneven development


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