A Rusty but Provocative Knife? The Rationale behind China's Sanction Usage

Huang, Wei-Hao

  • Published : 2019.07.22


China has initiated a series of "economic sanctions" against South Korea, affecting Korean pop stars visiting China and Korean investments in China. Sanctions were imposed on South Korea in response to the decision of South Korea to deploy Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) in 2016. Furthermore, the Global Daily assembled local population to boycott Korean products and investments in China. However, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has never positively confirmed these activities as economic sanctions to South Korea related to the THAAD installation. In other words, the Chinese government singled a relatively weak message via these sanctions to South Korea. As a result, the THADD implementation continued in South Korea. In the paper, I interpret China's rationale to impost puzzling economic sanctions, which have a weak resolution, to South Korea and Taiwan. As signaling theory argues, economic sanctions with insufficient resolution, which are more likely to fail, is a more provocative foreign policy. By reviewing China's sanctions usage to South Korea and Taiwan, I propose arguments of bureaucratic competition to answer why China launched such sanctions to other countries: those are caused by domestic institutions who are seeking reward from the Communist Party of China. By comparing shifts of leadership between domestic agencies, the paper provides evidence to support the proposed argument. I also include two alternative explanations to strengthen the proposed argument, albeit connecting the paper with other two larger streams of research, which address analyses of China's aggressive foreign policies as well as the domestic politics of economic sanctions.


Economic Sanctions from China;South Korea;Taiwan;bureaucratic competition