Handbook on the Politics of Small States
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Handbook on the Politics of Small States

Edited by Godfrey Baldacchino and Anders Wivel

Comprehensive and timely, this Handbook identifies the key characteristics, challenges and opportunities involved in the politics of small states across the globe today. Acknowledging the historical legacies behind these states, the chapters unpack the costs and benefits of different political models for small states.
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Chapter 20: Small states, China and the South China Sea

Leszek Buszynski


This chapter examines four small states and one weak state in Southeast Asia to illustrate their reactions to China’s claims in the South China Sea. It argues that size alone does not determine responses: other factors such as elite politics, ethnicity and history also play a role. Cambodia has become an ally of China and adopts China’s position over this issue; while neighbouring Laos attempts to balance between China and Vietnam which are in conflict over the South China Sea. Brunei has turned to China for economic reasons but faces a dilemma as China presses against its own claim in the South China Sea. Singapore is a small trading state which is highly dependent on the regional economic order and the US in particular. Despite its majority Chinese population, it has avoided identification with China over this issue. The Philippines has a population of 103 million but its high dependence on external support and weak institutions of governance have prompted it to behave like a small state seeking security from the US as well as China.

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