Killing the Chicken to Scare the Monkey: Explaining Coercion by China in the South China Sea



Ketian Zhang, 2018-2019 Shorenstein Postdoctoral Fellow on Contemporary Asia

Date and Time

April 16, 2019 12:00 PM - 1:30 PM



Open to the public.

RSVP required by 5PM April 15.


Philippines Conference Room
Encina Hall, Third Floor, Central, C330
616 Jane Stanford Way, Stanford, CA 94305

Despite adverse implications for its image, when it comes to territorial disputes, China has been willing to employ coercion. But Beijing is selective regarding the timing, targets, and tools of coercion. Military coercion is rare and the forms and uses of coercion vary. In the face of what China sees as similar threats by different countries, for example, Beijing tends to tailor its responses, country by country, case by case. Dr. Zhang will focus on Chinese coercive behavior in the South China Sea. She will offer a new theory as to when, why, and how China coerces other states.  Leveraging a wealth of newly available primary documents and hundreds of hours of interviews with Chinese officials, she will trace the decision-making processes that result in coercion’s use or non-use.

Where others may view China as repetitively aggressive, Dr. Zhang sees a cautious bully that does not coerce frequently and has tended, as it has gained strength, to use non-kinetic kinds of coercion. She finds that protecting a reputation for resolve and calculating economic costs are critical elements in China’s decision-making regarding the (dis)advantages of coercing its neighbors. Nor is the intended target country necessarily clear. China often coerces one to deter another – “killing the chicken to scare the monkey.” Implications will also drawn from her research that can help in projecting China’s likely future foreign-policy behavior beyond Southeast Asia and in understanding the roles played by coercion in the strategies of states more generally.

To learn more about, watch a recent interview APARC filmed with Dr. Zhang.

Ketian Vivian Zhang will be an Assistant Professor of International Security in the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University starting in September 2019. Her book project at Stanford and a forthcoming article in International Security are on the subject of her talk. Beyond its topic, another part of her research agenda explores how the globalized economy and its chains of manufacture and supply affect the foreign-policy behaviors of states. Her 2018 PhD in political science is from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is a proud Badger, having earned her BA in political science and sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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