Singapore: At the 18th Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) held in 2012, China had declared its ambition to be a haiyang qiangguo– that is, a strong or great maritime power, according to The Singapore Post.
As per the Singapore-based publication, a ‘maritime power’ is a country that has great comprehensive strength in terms of the development, use, protection, management, and control of the seas.”
In November 2012, then-president Hu Jintao, in his report to the CCP stated China should enhance its capacity for exploiting marine resources, develop the marine economy, protect the marine ecological environment, resolutely safeguard China’s maritime rights and interests, and build China into a strong maritime power.
During the 18th Party Congress, Hu also called for building a military (the PLA) that would be “commensurate with China’s international standing.”
“Building China into a maritime power is an essential path on the way to the sustained development of the Chinese nation and [achievement of the status of a] global power, according to the Liu Cigui, director of the SOA, or State Oceanic Administration.
Moreover, President Xi Jinping also stressed on building China into a strong maritime country is a “major strategic task for realizing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” Back in 2013, Xi told the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee at a study session that a robust marine economy underpins the building of a strong maritime nation, reported The Singapore Post.
Xi’s vision is materializing as he steers the blue economy toward prosperity, with the size of the country’s marine economy exceeding 9 trillion yuan about 1.35 trillion US dollars) in 2021, a surge from 5 trillion yuan in 2012. It contributed 8 per cent to the growth of GDP last year, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources.
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In recent years, Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed building a maritime community with a shared future and a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. The reason for China to propose jointly building the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, Xi said, is to facilitate maritime connectivity, pragmatic cooperation in various fields, and the development of the “blue economy.”
In the Chinese context, maritime power encompasses more than naval power but appreciates the importance of having a world-class navy. The maritime power equation includes a large and effective coast guard; a world-class merchant marine and fishing fleet; a globally recognized shipbuilding capacity; and an ability to harvest or extract economically important maritime resources, especially fish.
Although the intensity of fishing varies across regions, the depletion of fishery resources is a growing problem everywhere. China, which catches more fish than any other nation, vastly contributes to this problem with not only its fleet size and the tonnage of its catches, but also its fishing practices – which include illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing – and, above all, a fisheries policy that exports its environmental problems and thereby protects its own national marine areas.
Moreover, China instrumentalizes fishing to serve its revisionist agenda and its strategic interests more broadly, signalling its willingness to use traditional economic activities for geopolitical gain, reported The Singapore Post.
There have been many notable cases across nations where Chinese ships have been detained and found to carry illegal fishing stock which was being hauled to China on large cargo ships. These kinds of cargo ships are mostly owned by seafood corporation that have direct links to China.
China’s unregulated plunder of the global fish stock could pose a great threat to the livelihood and food security millions of people, reported The Singapore Post.
Regarding UNCLOS, China has fully participated and ratified UNCLOS, but it has increased its assertiveness in the South China Sea on the basis of “historic claims”.
The UN Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) does not grant signatories the right to make claims based on historical legacy, and the concept of “historic claims” lacks a clear basis in international law.
China’s latest round of actions in the South China Sea (SCS) region through war exercises invoking fighter jets and warships ahead of the fifth anniversary of the international tribunal ruling is yet another brazen act of violation of international law on the 100th year of the ruling Communist Party of China.
As it is clear that, a wide variety of authoritative sources indicate that maritime power will also have an important global component.
The latest Chinese defence white paper indicates that PLA Navy strategy is transitioning from a single-minded focus on “offshore waters defence,” to broader global strategic missions that place significant importance on “distant-water defence.”
Whether it is the navy, the merchant marine, or China’s distant-water fishing fleet, the Chinese flag is going to be ubiquitous on the high seas around the world.