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Harmonious ocean, harmonious world
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By Zhou Shixin

From April 21-23, 2009, high-level delegates from 29 countries and 21 vessels from 14 countries gathered in Qingdao for a three-day celebration of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy. Chinese and foreign naval leaders voiced a unanimous view of the need to build harmony in the ocean, and reached consensus on building a harmonious, just and free ocean.

It is widely felt that the navy pageant was not just a celebration, but also a reminder that China is now an important naval power, although China's navy still lags behind the world's leading powers. Chinese nuclear-powered submarines appeared in the pageant for the first time. Chinese military leaders also declared that China will build bigger, better warships with a mission to keep the country's coastal waters safe.

What does "harmonious Ocean" mean?

The main theme of this navy pageant, "Harmonious Ocean" means that all the countries in the world should do their best to protect the ocean against damage from international conflicts and crises. They must take practical measures to avoid such problems by resolving international sea territory disputes peacefully, keeping international sea-lanes secure, collectively fighting against piracy, and protecting the security of the oceans' biology and environment.

"Harmonious Ocean" reflects the inward objectives of China's naval development over the past 60 years: prevention of outside aggression, defense of the national territory; safeguarding a secure environment for national economic development and political and social stability. It also fully illustrates the external intentions of Chinese navy: promotion of communication and exchange with other sea powers to keep the ocean secure for all the countries in the world.

"Harmonious Ocean" sustains the ocean governance ideology of China and other countries when employing their maritime military power along their coastal territory and elsewhere in the world, i.e. that maritime military powers should cooperate or compete in a moderate and benign way, but not in a mutually confrontational or exclusive way. Ocean development and exploration activities and programs should be launched to facilitate mutual benefit or win-win strategies among all countries. The ocean should be effectively and scientifically managed and utilized so that it can be a sustainable natural resource for humanity and for useful economic activity.

How can the navy promote a harmonious world?

Therefore, the intention of China's 60th anniversary naval pageant is not to show off its military power, but as a means of cooperating with other countries in harmony, highlighting the new strategy behind Chinese military diplomacy. The Chinese navy is not a primary threat to others, but a force for peacekeeping on the ocean with other countries in various fields and in different regions. For example, the Chinese navy in the waters off Somalia not only serves to protect ships from China and from other countries, but also promotes the stability and security of the West Indian Ocean.

China's navy is what is known as a "deterrent power". Chinese naval capability is not intended for use against peaceful activity, but to deter those who are enemies of or would disturb the peace of the seas. The starting point of deterrence logic is that military power is designed to defend, but not offend, to preserve and not change the status quo, and to prevent real or potential opponents or enemies from endangering the security of the current peaceful and stable international environment.

China seeks ocean security by launching cooperative security strategies while developing bilateral or multilateral relationships with other countries. All countries should understand that only open and genuine cooperation can enhance mutual security. Unilateral activities are liable to cause hurt to the national interests of other parties, and will provoke angry reaction and cause damage in the end. No country can benefit from causing hurt to others in international relations.

Therefore, the "Harmonious Ocean" strategy is an inseparable part of a harmonious, comprehensive, and meaningful world strategy. Without a harmonious ocean, the construction of a harmonious world will be without a sound foundation; after all, the ocean covers most of the globe.

However, the Chinese navy is still in the development stage, not highly-modernized or informatized, and lacking in the experience needed to be able to respond to the various demands of sophisticated maritime operations. Its main short-term task is still to safeguard China's ocean rights and national sovereignty. Therefore, the Chinese navy still needs to take advantage of opportunities to learn from others, opportunities like this naval pageant and other such military forums, to facilitate building mutual security, trust, and confidence. We are convinced that the Chinese navy will grow in strength in the future as one of the powers dedicated to maintaining the peace and stability of the world.

Zhou Shixin, research fellow of the Institute of Foreign Policy Studies, Shanghai Institute for International Studies. His current research fields are Southeast Asia studies and China's foreign policy.

(China.org.cn April 27, 2009)

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