Nine ‘Small’ Islands: The Development of China’s South China Sea Islands Claim during the 1930s


At the Graduate Research Forum of the Bill Graham Centre for Contemporary International History, Chris Chung (University of Toronto) will present a paper on "Nine ‘Small’ Islands: The Development of China’s South China Sea Islands Claim during the 1930s." Based on recent findings in Taiwanese archives, this talk will examine internal Republican Chinese government decision-making in response to France’s annexation of nine features of the Spratly Islands in 1933. Chinese claims to the South China Sea changed over time. These claimed maritime borders were neither stagnant nor perennial, as both the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) claim today. Instead, this territoriality was constantly constructed and re-constructed to respond to the political needs of the present. Secondly, various forces beyond executive levels of the ROC government exerted significant influence that determined the final shape of the ROC claim. Meanwhile, confusion plagued executive circles as to where exactly the French-occupied islands were. Finally, the common image of the Chinese state as a neatly unified and monolithic actor dictating its wishes concerning the South China Sea islands needs to be deconstructed. This talk will show how several government organs, factions, and holdovers of warlordism contested each other and with the executive leadership over what the islands claim should be. Their deliberations exerted tremendous influence on the final policy and claim decided upon.