William & Mary

Student essay offers keen look at China

Taylor Brooks

It happened only twice over the years that the top prize for the best article published in "The Monitor," the College of William and Mary's highly regarded journal of international relations was awarded to the same student, by two separate selection bodies in a double-blind procedure.

Taylor Brooks, a sophomore from Winchester is the author of the winning article, "Securing a Communist Regime by Claiming the South China Sea," It was selected from among all the essays published in the 2016-2017 issues of "The Monitor."

In her acceptance speech Brooks said, "As someone who has never before won an award for research or writing, I am incredibly honored to be recognized.... I would like to thank particularly to Professor Amy Oakes for literally everything, but especially her ability to listen to students' ideas and opinions when they're all over the place and help conceptualize them. Just ask her, she will tell you that for some reason she truly loves to make outlines!

"This article began as the final assignment for Professor Oakes' Interdisciplinary Perspectives in International Relations, a core class for all IR majors" she continued. "However, I am no longer an IR major. Professor Oakes helped me realize that I didn't have to fit into a box, one which I had chosen for myself, and I could design a major that would allow me to learn about what interests me, which is global development. The article that I'm being recognized for deals much more with international security and politics than development. But I feel that the process was instrumental in teaching me how to conduct research and how to explain my findings in a way that is short, to the point, and readable."

Brooks, in her award winning article points out that, "Rather than relinquish its claim to the South China Sea after international criticism and unfavorable legal rulings, China has escalated its actions in the region by building up its navy, and constructing artificial islands on contested rock formations. The Chinese Communist Party, wary of losing legitimacy, manufactures historical narratives to advance nationalist sentiment and justify its claim in this disputed territory, while also emphasizing the economic benefits for both the middle class and the political elite."

In conclusion, Brooks notes, "The regime's legitimacy is tied to the health of the Chinese economy, as the CCP depends on economic growth to discourage dissent, and reward its supporters. The CCP uses history as a tool to spin narratives about former Chinese glory that present the party as the legitimate heir to the nation's imperial legacy. By claiming the South China Sea, CCP secures natural resources offering alternatives to foreign oil and appeal to nationalist sentiment."

In my remarks at the Reves Center award ceremony, I noted that the quality of the articles submitted for publication in "The Monitor" remained extraordinarily high and that it testified to the intellectual rigor, hard work at research and the writing ability of the authors. I lamented that I am permitted to select only one prize winner, while in each issue there have been several essays that deserved the top prize. But it is articles like the one by Taylor Brooks that make The Monitor such an outstanding journal."