Maritime community of shared future sets sail

China Daily
Updated: April 30, 2024
Ren'ai Reef [File photo/chinanews.com.cn]

Editor's note: More than 30 experts from different research institutions and universities shared their views on the need to build a maritime community with a shared future at the Third Future Ocean Forum: Theoretical Innovation and Practical Exploration of the Maritime Community with a Shared Future that was held in Qingdao, Shandong province, on April 20-21. Excerpts from the speeches of three of the experts follow:

Chances of potential flashpoints flaring up

In terms of potential future risks, several critical points require China's attention. First, the Ren'ai Jiao issue in the South China Sea has been simmering since the Philippines started delivering construction materials to the Ren'ai Jiao and attempted to make it a permanently occupied military base. Also, the Philippines is consistently trying to stir up public opinion against China.

Given the pattern of the Philippines' provocations, a peaceful resolution to the issue appears difficult. Hence, maintaining the status quo while allowing Manila, on humanitarian grounds, to send limited supplies to the World War II-era military vessel it deliberately rammed into Ren'ai Jiao in 1999 citing the excuse of mechanical fault and now wants to build facilities around it appears to be the most pragmatic way to address the issue.

Second, Manila has indicated it may seek fresh arbitration on Chinese activities near Houteng Jiao. That it has been gathering evidence, especially on marine environmental damage and alleged interference in fishing activities near Houteng Jiao, makes the issue a big legal challenge.

The new arbitration, if the Philippines seeks it, will have far-reaching consequences, affecting relations and setting a precedent for other countries in the region to take similar actions. So China must closely monitor the developments and take measures to protect its interests.

The situation in Liyue Tan, where the Philippines desperately wants to unilaterally exploit the resources, poses a threat to China's maritime interests. If Manila proceeds with its plan to extract resources from Liyue Tan, it will undermine regional stability and jeopardize China's strategic and economic interests. While diplomacy should be used to settle the issue, China also needs to respond assertively to protect its national interests in the South China Sea.

A consistent and principled approach is essential to help resolve the issues through dialogue and diplomacy, and safeguard China's interests in the South China Sea.

Wu Shicun, chairman of Huayang Research Center for Maritime Cooperation and Ocean Governance and founding president of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies

A holistic, consistent approach needed

A good knowledge of international law, especially the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, is necessary to understand the South China Sea dynamics, and why the United States has been intervening in other countries' disputes, deploying its military and conducting "freedom of navigation" operations in the South China Sea.

China's approach to the South China Sea issues is multifaceted. It has been balancing sovereignty claims with efforts to maintain stability and safeguard its economic interests. Late leader Deng Xiaoping's principle of shelving disputes to pursue joint development in such cases encapsulates this strategy, emphasizing cooperation alongside territorial assertions.

However, translating this policy into action is challenging. The maritime disputes necessitate a nuanced approach that balances assertiveness with cooperation. While stability is essential, it must not come at the expense of fundamental rights. Achieving this delicate balance requires a deep understanding of the region's complexities and a commitment to constructive engagement.

In fact, to resolve the South China Sea conundrum, we need to shift from conventional wisdom toward pragmatic diplomacy. Adopting a holistic approach that prioritizes dialogue, cooperation and respect for international law offers the best path toward stability and prosperity in this vital maritime domain.

The need to urgently resolve the South China Sea issue cannot be overstated. Failure to defuse the underlying tensions risks affecting not only regional stability but also global security. By acknowledging the complexity of the situation and adopting a collaborative approach, stakeholders can work together to develop the South China Sea into a zone of cooperation rather than conflict.

Gao Zhiguo, president of the Chinese Society of Law of the Sea, and former judge of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea

Hierarchy of needs should be addressed

The vision of a maritime community with a shared future encompasses various layers rooted in diverse interests. Through the lens of Abraham Maslow's "hierarchy of needs theory", we can discern distinct levels of demands and environmental concerns. For instance, maritime disputes often revolve around questions of territorial ownership and belonging, and climate change-induced marine disasters highlight the urgency of addressing these issues.

Contemplating a world marked by diverging interests may prompt skepticism about the feasibility of forging a maritime community amid such unfavorable circumstances. But there is no denying that hope persists amid these challenges — for example, regional initiatives promote partnerships, as can be seen in the case of ASEAN and China.

The pursuit of a comprehensive maritime community remains an ideal worth striving for, even if it is achieved gradually. A realistic appraisal of the power dynamics underscores the importance of legal frameworks in shaping perceptions and managing conflicts.

The conflicting assertions of sovereignty, especially in the South China and East China seas, underscore the real threat hegemony poses to China's national interests. Given the threat of the environmental crisis and terrorism, there is a need to take a cautious approach to international relations.

After all, safeguarding national interests is a prerequisite for nurturing a global community. Without this, a shared future would remain elusive. Sovereignty, security and development are the basis for a shared future. The concept of a maritime community with a shared future can be viewed through various lenses, from the "Thucydides trap" to a perpetual peaceful arrangement. By reflecting on our place now, we can navigate our path forward.

He Zhipeng, dean of School of Law, Jilin University.The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.

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