How does Southeast Asia incentivize a major power like China to exercise restraint, particularly in the ongoing dispute in the South China Sea (SCS)? Prof. Huang will argue that regional consensus, interactive deliberations, and insulated negotiation settings are most likely to induce China to shift its policy in the SCS toward supporting regional initiatives that it previously deflected, resisted, or opposed, and toward reevaluating the efficacy of using force. Conversely, regional disunity and fragmentation would render China more likely to practice power politics. Without joint influence, the states of Southeast Asia are unlikely to alter China’s preference for pursuing its interests in the SCS by coercive means intended to minimize the capabilities of other claimant states and thereby sustain its unilateral approach to maritime security.
A key question for this research is the extent to which confidence-building diplomacy based on voluntary cooperation between China and Southeast Asia can cultivate habits of avoiding conflict without the binding agreements and formal sanctioning mechanisms that have proven so hard to negotiate. Preliminary findings suggest the need for scholars and practitioners to be more creative, precise, and consistent in studying and suggesting how Southeast Asia can project and implement its security norms in ways that incentivize change in the foreign policy paradigm of an imposing external power.
Chin-Hao Huang is an assistant professor of political science at Yale-NUS College in Singapore. His current book-in-progress, Power, Restraint, and China’s Rise, explains why and how China’s foreign policy might reflect restraint even as its material power increases at unprecedented rates. His latest publication is “China-Southeast Asia Relations: Xi Jinping Stresses Cooperation and Power—Enduring Contradiction?” (coauthored, Comparative Connections, May 2018). Earlier writings have appeared as monographs, in edited volumes, and in journals including The China Quarterly, The China Journal, and Contemporary Southeast Asia. Tri-lingual in Mandarin, Thai, and French, Prof. Huang lectures widely and has testified on Chinese foreign policy before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. His PhD and BS are respectively from the University of Southern California and Georgetown University