Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name



Josef Korbel School of International Studies

First Advisor

Karen Feste, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Douglas Allen

Third Advisor

Paul Viotti


Bully, China, East China Sea, South China Sea


Since 2009, tensions have increased markedly between China and its maritime neighbors over disputed territories in the East and South China Seas. China’s neighbors accuse it of acting like a bully, alleging that China engages in behavior that is aggressive, inappropriate, and oppressive. But can such accusations be substantiated through objective analysis, or is bullying truly in the eye of the beholder? Further, is China simply acting boldly, albeit in a manner that is justifiable, as it emerges as a leader in the region? The purpose of this thesis was to determine whether labeling China’s behavior as “bullying” (as China’s smaller and less powerful neighbors view it) is accurate, and whether any definitive conclusions can be drawn concerning the assertive nature of China’s conduct. Moreover, given how China’s neighbors perceive Chinese maritime policy, this thesis examined how the stability of East Asia might be impacted by smaller states’ perceptions. A two-tiered methodological approach was employed that includes examining specific instances of conflict between China and its neighbors, and a content and trend analysis of regional media reporting on the disputed claims issue. Ultimately, the ongoing territorial disputes between China and its maritime neighbors were used as a case environment for exploring how smaller states perceive and react to the actions of great and/or aspiring powers. The case demonstrates that small states sometimes perceive themselves to be victims of great power behavior, whether or not such perceptions are accurate, and that the friction between great power conduct and small state perceptions can contribute to instability that endangers an entire region.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.


Received from ProQuest

Rights holder

Harrison I. Fried

File size

164 p.

File format





International relations