Gina WuFollow

Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


International Relations

Reader 1

Minxin Pei

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© 2018 Gina N Wu

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The prominence of the South China Sea comes from its wealth of energy resources, fisheries, and maritime trade that traverses through its waters. These assets entice many southeast Asian countries to stake their claims over the features of the sea. In recent years, China’s rising power has allowed the country to increasingly assert its authority in the territory without much of an opposing force. Of the few actors that are capable of policing China’s actions, the United States is the most promising, yet has failed to meet international expectations.

Through two case studies and theoretical analysis, this thesis examines the failures of American deterrence policy through a two-part approach. First, it investigates the incident of the 2012 Scarborough Shoal standoff between the Philippines and China, analyzing the consequences of American policy failure. It then examines Chinese island reclamation efforts, and how the failures from the first case study can explain the new Chinese strategy and rationale behind Chinese activities. Lastly, the paper explores the deterrence theory and its applications to gray zone conflicts, pointing out components of successful deterrence in these types of engagements and why American deterrence policy was ineffective.

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.