Securitisation of Population Dynamics in the People's Republic of China

  • Neville Li

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


As Kingsley Davis stated, ‘the study of population offers one of the unique and indispensable approaches to an understanding of world affairs’ (Davis 1954, p.vii). In the discipline of International Relations, valuable security and political implications have been yielded by examining how population growth constitutes violent conflicts in traditional security studies (e.g. Choucri 1974; North and Choucri 1971). Non-traditional security (NTS) also develops its own problem-solving approach, e.g. human security, to solve demographic-related issues encountered by humankind such as famine and unemployment (UNDP 1994). Despite both traditional and NTS studies having established their material approaches, the ideational relationship between security and population dynamics has yet to be studied in detail. Specifically, this dissertation examines how ideational relationship is/can be established by ‘securitising’ population dynamics, i.e. how to rhetorically make population dynamics a security threat.The thesis adopted a combined analytical framework of the Copenhagen School and the Paris School in the case of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to identify how the ideational relationship between security and population dynamics was established. It first adopts the securitisation framework to examine how the PRC rhetorically constructed population growth as a security threat and introduced its emergency measure, i.e. the one-child policy. The dissertation then reveals the politics of the prolonged securitisation by evaluating the one-child policy as a technique for governmentality of unease and demonstrates how this constitutes the shift from securitising population growth to population decline. This dissertation argues that population dynamics can be constructed as (the cause of) numerous security threats through a successful securitisation. With the case of the PRC, the thesis demonstrates the de facto politicisation of population growth before the late 70s, and how the de jure securitisation was adopted in a Communist manner to legitimise the world’s strictest population policy, i.e. the one-child policy, as its emergency measure to solve various existential threats posed by population dynamics. In addition, the study of politics of securitisation in the case of the PRC further unfolds the struggles of priorities among different actors, which brings us political, practical and relational implications about this governmentality of unease that lasted for almost 4 decades. A deeper understanding of how our ideas of demography shape what we call ‘security threats’ sheds lights on how states formulate comprehensive security agendas by taking population dynamics into account due to its immense importance to threat construction. Other security actors such as international organisations, private sectors, and even individuals can more easily convince relevant audiences to legitimise the securitisation of the specific demographic-related threats they are facing. As Sciubba put it, ‘population dynamics could be a challenge or an opportunity’ (Sciubba 2011, p.3). Accumulating knowledge of the ideational connections between security and population dynamics increases the ability of various security actors to confront these challenges through a successful securitisation, which contribute to preventing numerous demographic-related threats from happening or at least easing these pains of humankind.
Date of Award14 Nov 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorDavid Galbreath (Supervisor) & Scott Thomas (Supervisor)


  • Critical Security Studies
  • Securitization
  • Political Demography
  • Chinese Studies

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