Keeping calm at sea essential

By Jin Yongming
0 CommentsPrint E-mail China Daily, October 12, 2010
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China is facing a slew of maritime problems, and may continue to do so in the near future. In the South China Sea, it has disputes over maritime boundaries with several member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). It also has different understandings and disputes over the free use of marine resources in the South China Sea's exclusive economic zone with some countries.

In the East China Sea, it faces resource development problems, demarcation disputes and conflicts over maritime safety with Japan.

In the high seas, it has to deal with marine safety issues such as piracy, environmental pollution caused by natural and man-made disasters, and problems caused by the setting of the outer continental shelf (OCS), which affect its national interests.

These issues have the potential to influence China's maritime, even national, security greatly. Therefore, it has to handle them with utmost care.

These issues have cropped up for three reasons. First, since surveys and delimitation of land boundaries between China and its neighboring countries are mostly done, maritime disputes have replaced land disputes.

Second, globalization means China has to develop and use the seas and marine resources with increasing frequency. That apart, the number of maritime interests that China needs to protect is growing, which in turn is giving rise to more disputes.

Third, China is a relatively disadvantaged country in terms of oceanography, because of which it has disputes with other countries over sea boundaries and island ownership.

But China's continuing reform and opening-up policy is expected to hasten its economic development further and help it secure its maritime boundaries to protect its sovereignty and national integrity. But this, to some extent, may cause misunderstandings among other countries about China's intentions and create further disputes.

To settle the disputes in the East China Sea, China should continue its talks with Japan, because an agreement on the delimitation of the sea would be the best solution for both countries.

The talks should focus on the dispute over the Diaoyu Islands and their adjacent islets and the corresponding institutional arrangement. China should emphasize its indisputable sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands, make efforts to weaken Japan's control and management over the region and then seek joint exploitation of resources in and around the area.

As for resource development in the East China Sea, if Tokyo does not reach a compromise on the Diaoyu Islands, Beijing could set a relatively high bar for joint development in the Chunxiao fields.

To end the disputes over island ownership and demarcation of maritime boundaries with ASEAN member states, China needs to negotiate with the contenders under the principle and spirit of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. The declaration says all parties should initiate friendly dialogue, promote the settlement of territorial and jurisdiction disputes through peaceful means and oppose the threat or use of force.

In addition, the parties involved have to exercise restraint by not making the dispute more complicated or let it harm regional peace and stability. They should build mutual trust, make efforts to discuss and promote cooperation, and hold dialogues to settle the disputes peacefully.

Generally speaking, the above propositions and principles do not comply with only the objectives of the Charter of the United Nations, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and other international laws, but also the current international developmental trends.

It is important to settle disputes through dialogues on the basis of equality and cooperation. For example, the countries with interests in the South China Sea could freeze their disputes to prevent them from deteriorating further.

On the disputes over freedom of navigation in the South China Sea's exclusive economic zone, China should reach an understanding with other countries through dialogue. China should declare that it welcomes the United States to continue playing an active role in the Asia-Pacific region as long as Washington does not impede upon the region's interests.

When it comes to sea-lane security on the high seas, China will continue playing an active role, especially in combating piracy in the Gulf of Aden and Somali waters.

It can replicate this action in other waters to fulfill its international commitments.

China will play its due role to deal with natural and manmade disasters in seas and oceans by participating in regional and international efforts. Its purpose is to protect not only its own interests, but also that of the international community.

As for the problems caused by the setting of the OCS, China should continue to pay close attention to the review process of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. It must focus mainly on the potential influence of the review and further strengthen the exploration of its continental shelf in the East China Sea and South China Sea, propose its OCS demarcation as soon as possible and consider cooperating on the exploration of the continental shelf.

China should work out different solutions to the different marine problems it faces according to some principles and measures.

First, China should insist on peaceful settlement of disputes over island ownership and demarcation of waters.

Second, it must discuss new patterns for joint exploitation for resources and new mechanisms on maritime safety maintenance with the disputing parties.

Third, along with developing its sea power, it should strengthen mutual trust and understanding through exchanges and dialogues with other countries to avoid misunderstanding and miscalculation.

Fourth, it has to selectively participate in international marine affairs to enhance understanding and fulfill its due obligations. And fifth, it should actively promote its stance on marine issues through websites and by hosting international symposiums to help other countries better understand its maritime policies.

Moreover, China has to study the law of the sea to better prepare for possible revision and to establish a framework and system for cooperation with other countries to protect its maritime rights and interests.

The author is a law scholar with the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and Chinese Maritime Development Research Center.

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