Inside Perspectives on Chinese Marine Issues

Read Time:3 Minute, 31 Second



The stage for territorial politics in Asia’s oceans hosts a complex set of regional issues. Chinese diplomatic decision-making and military strategies in East Asia’s oceans are integral to the future of the region. On March 16th, students at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center were privy to the viewpoints of a Chinese Foreign Ministry official.Yang Li, an HNC ’94-’95 alumni and section chief of Ocean Affairs at China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, currently works on China’s developing marine policy. At HNC’s Kuang Yaming Auditorium, he lectured on “China’s Marine Policy and U.S.-China Relations,” which contextualized territorial disputes and marine policies from his perspective. Yang also shared a general overview of the Sino-American relationship in China’s bordering oceans.

Firstly, Yang Li contrasted the security statuses of China and the United States on maritime issues, noting that despite sharing no physical borders, the United States is involved in many of China’s border disputes. Whereas the United States is surrounded by oceans on both coasts, China has eight oceanic neighbors in its vicinity. Yang discussed China’s changing marine policy in this tumultuous region. He argued that China’s changing position corresponded to its developmental needs. After Deng Xiaoping’s policies pushed China towards a market-oriented economy, China began to tap into the fishing industry, and looked to the sea for trade and commercial opportunities. With this shift and other socioeconomic changes, China pivoted its developmental policy towards the many bodies of water along its borders.

Yang emphasized the provisional nature of regional territorial agreements, particularly the 2002 Declaration of Conduct in the South China Sea, and cited ASEAN-centric reasons as to why territorial boundaries have yet to be formalized. ASEAN states’ interstate disagreements hindered the full development of maritime infrastructures and formal codes of conduct. While China plays a key role in stabilizing bilateral ASEAN-China relations, Yang believes that this bilateral relation alone cannot ensure regional stability. He argues that resolution of ASEAN members’ internal issues must occur before China can sign onto future infrastructural agreements with added confidence.

Yang suggested new maritime strategies for American and Chinese leadership. He also identified relevant marine issues and precursors to successful regional policy. Since the United States currently provides security to multiple East Asian states as an ally, contemporary Sino-U.S. relations have become strained. U.S. military exercises and ship presence near Chinese border draws concerns from Chinese leadership. Oceanography experiments to gather information on sea borders have sparked additional criticism and calls for the United States to reduce its current presence close to the Chinese shoreline.

In addition to levelling criticisms and opinions on U.S. actions in Chinese territorial waters, Mr. Yang addressed criticisms of China’s own involvement in territorial disputes. On the tense Sino-Japanese relationship, Yang Li used the Okinawa archipelago as a “medium” border between China and Japan, established by the Japanese. He perceived Chinese actions as abiding by this agreement until 2004, when the pipeline effect of natural resources in the region incentivized Japan to push China further back. In future negotiations, Yang emphasized peaceful tactics in order to improve standings with China’s marine-bordering neighbors, and increase cooperation in oceanic navigation and travel.
Yang Li concluded the talk with photos of the Hopkins-Nanjing Center from his time as a student in the graduate certificate program in 1994. The twenty-year-old photos showed both familiar features of the SAIS Nanjing campus, as well as changes in its surroundings since Yang’s time at the Center. Though the student dormitory and common space building remained the same, the neighborhood and streets around the Hopkins-Nanjing Center have changed significantly. Perhaps the same can be said about the complex oceanic “neighborhood” of East Asia. Though the models and structures of the past can influence the direction of future policy, the precise shape and structure of future policy direction is yet to be determined and envisioned.

For more information on China’s maritime disputes, below is a link to an interactive presentation by CFR.!/

Leave a Reply

Previous post Taspinar’s Turkey: Exploring the East and West at SAIS Europe
Next post SAIS Cartoon: South Korean Ferry Sinks
%d bloggers like this: