China’s growing supremacy on the South China Sea has become a major concern for western powers as United States and its allies mull over a course of action that does not leave a trail of destruction.
Finally, the issue has started grabbing the media’s attention the way it should have months ago. The growing marine supremacy of Beijing over one of the most active sea channels, with trade volume of worth of $5.6 trillion to claim hegemony over the region has alarmed many states where the decision makers are shuffling across the board to make the right call. And they have very actively spoken on the aforementioned issue at different platforms, knowing all too well that China’s ambitions to reclaim a string of small islands, coral reefs and lagoons show no signs of ending anytime soon.
Moreover, there are numerous international stakeholders who claim their right over the controversial part of the ocean, yet China’s new science for diplomatic approach has twisted the scenario in what we call a very complex geopolitical environment.
Currently Beijing is leading the technological market of the world, not only they are just famous for creating replicas but they are also miles ahead of their closest competitors when it comes to introducing new innovative products to the global market. Similarly they are way advanced in marine sciences and now they are using it as a tool to achieve their objectives over the South China Sea while the other stakeholders are forced to watch with extreme frustration at their inability to do much about it.
In a bid to ensure that it does not come to a Mexican standoff, China has already initiated a regional scientific cooperation program.
“As a country where the Science & Technology development model forms part of a more global strategy to validate its status as a powerful nation, China has actively supported research through the funding of institutes, universities’ programs, infrastructure and specialists education.
President Xi Jinping is involved in the elaboration and supervision of different programs such as the state program for ocean development—2006 to 2020—or the five-year improvement plan for oceanic development.” (Source)
Regardless of how the world feels about China’s adventures in South China Sea, it is right to commend China for making a very clever move through which it has been able to play around the soft spots of other stakeholders and leave them dumbstruck on a regular basis.
The scientific cooperation program aims to address the following agendas for Beijing:
First right to all data
To control the data for the area to enhance all available options and use them whenever necessary
Research as a show of power and maritime might
To use research as a demonstration of power with the submarine Jialong being one such example of how far ahead it is of its competitors
Reaffirm its sovereignty
Beijing aims to ensure its sovereignty in the South China Sea by not sharing the scientific data with any nation. Beijing has found a way to use scientific operation as a weapon to ensure achievement of targets without military intervention.
On the other hand it is also one of the prime objectives of Beijing to reduce the mistrust among the stakeholders. So far, this objective has not been attained for obvious reasons. All stakeholders want a piece of the controversial pie and even though are not in any position to challenge Chinese supremacy, don’t want to give up on their demands either.
And the recent construction of an artificial island is no way near to be justified under any illusion, as its way clear and Beijing cannot dismiss claims that with every day passing its foothold is getting strong in the South China Sea. In short, Beijing is hell-bent on making the ocean its fortress.
Ability to rapidly develop scientific and military might has allowed China to take rivals out of the equation, add more muscle to its arguments before making sure that the regional space and supply routes are under its command. Twenty years’ worth of research programs in the South China Sea has paid off brilliantly for Beijing and now, its navy is already enjoying great control there if not complete.
Under the façade of scientific cooperation, China has been able to slowly continue with its reclamation program and one can forgive the world for observing events when Beijing has already gained a lot of ground.
This divergence to convergence is again only beneficial for Beijing and it is just trying to settle down an escalating conflict in the region to make a clear passage for its own ambitions.
Blue economy forgotten
There is no doubt the coral reef of the disputed territorial sea boasts diverse flora and fauna. According to a recent survey regarding these contested waters, marine life has declined at an alarming rate with only 261 species of fish left out of the original 460. And the list of rapidly extinct species now includes Green turtles, giant clams, and Hawksbill turtles, something that is again a valid criticism of China’s reckless pursuit of power that sees it give no regard to the environment.
The Asian peninsula has the biggest fishing fleet; approximately up to 3 million out of the world’s 4 million fishing vessels.
This number is set to keep growing with none other than China leading the way with a fleet of 70,000 fishing boats – the largest in the world. Aware that they have to compete with China in some way, Philippines and Vietnam have also started increasing their fishing fleets which spells an end to the “Blue Economy” plan which the country once spoke about so enthusiastically.
Furthermore, many scholars beg to differ on various aspects of this whole deal while looking into this whole matter as they argue that this policy is basically a much refined version of the expansionist policies that history is littered with through time. Just like natives of North America, South America, Hawaii, Polynesia Islands, Greenland, Falkland Islands, Palestine, Australia, Guam and New Zealand were exploited without them being aware, Beijing is also pursuing a similar approach territorial expansion minus the bloodshed. It is perhaps an obsession and lust of power, which has driven China into pursuing its agenda on the South China Sea so aggressively yet tactfully at the same time.