Borders: A Case Study Analysis of Chinese Behavior in Frontier Disputes

Rodriguez Gallego, Kiara [Browse]
Senior thesis


Truex, Rory [Browse]
Princeton University. Program in East Asian Studies [Browse]
Class year
Summary note
This thesis analyzed the variation in China’s behavior in frontier disputes and presented an explanation of the root causes of what leads China to decide to escalate or cooperate. The theoretical framework and empirical evidence presented in this thesis show that changing territory divisibility is the main variable explaining why China has sought cooperation in some instances and used force in others. Divisibility perception was defined by four variables: military, cultural, political, and economic salience; with the former two representing indivisible indicators and the latter two divisible. I hypothesize that changes in these four variables are the main causal mechanisms in determining China’s decision to use force, cooperate, or delay. This thesis used an in-depth process tracing case analysis on the Sino-Soviet dispute, and subsequently compares these results to precise instances of cooperation and escalation in Vietnam and India. Ultimately, the findings largely corroborated my hypotheses. The escalation hypothesis was largely corroborated. The in-depth process tracing analysis of the Sino-Soviet case found that increase in cultural and military salience coupled with decrease in political and economic salience led to a perception that the territory was indivisible. Similarly, in the cross-case comparison, the theory of changing divisibility perception also applied in the China-Vietnam clash of 1979 and in the China-India 1962 clash, confirming the escalation hypothesis. However, in some instances - two to be specific - an increase in cultural salience did not lead to escalation as would have been predicted. As mentioned, this depends on the combination of change in the divisibility indicators. On the other hand, the cooperation hypothesis was largely corroborated. This thesis finds that an increase in economic and/or political salience indicators led to cooperation as evidenced by the Sino-Soviet dispute, and the Vietnam and India, compromises and attempts to compromise.
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