Chinese State Council Deliberates Over Southeast Asia Maritime Policy

By Jason Meizels

BEIJING (UN Press Corps) - Members of the Chinese State Council ardently disputed foreign policy at their meeting Friday evening. While China touts a policy of peaceful coexistence, equality, and nonintervention, there is evidence of more aggressive action in favor of security and economic development at its borders. This dichotomy between the nation’s stated intentions and its actions is nowhere clearer than in the South China Sea.

The South China Sea has long represented one of the most contested areas in the world, facilitating an abundance of nautical traffic and global trade. The region is plentiful in oil deposits, fisheries, and natural gas, making it critical to the global economy and to international politics. Historical territorial tensions and nationalism have both long contributed to the instability of the region.

The two most powerful nations who lay claim to territory in the region are the U.S. and China. The U.S. has long shaped the South China Sea through military force and economic influence, but its dominion over the region is being chipped away. Despite President Xi Jinping’s vow according to the South China Morning Post in 2015 that “China [would] never pursue hegemony, expansion or sphere of influence,” China has recently and rapidly been expanding its claim to the region. The Minister of Science & Technology, Wang Zhigang, recognizes the escalation of tension caused by construction of man-made islands and arms features, but contends that “it’s China’s land, so they should be able to do what they want on it.”

State Councilor in charge of emergency management, Wang Yong, declares that China should “make a sacrifice for peace” and make some concessions to ensure regional and global security. Chinese foreign policy has the potential to significantly affect the development and relationships that hinge on this region on a global scale by either escalating tensions to the point of armed conflict or encouraging cooperation and diplomacy.

China’s interests in the South China Sea are three-fold: politics, oil, and fish. The entire dispute boils down to competition over resources, whether it be power, fuel, food, or jobs.  The Chinese State Council concentrated on the issue of disputed fisheries. Indonesia also has a significant interest in fisheries and maritime access, because fishing vessels contribute $25 billion to its economy according to World Fishing and Aquaculture. The conflict between Indonesia and China over fisheries is thusly emblematic of the larger regional context. Wang Zhigang professes that “reaching an agreement between Indonesia and China” is one of committee’s top priorities to achieve stability in the region.

Zhigang adds that China has “legal claims” to much of the territory within the South China Sea through historical precedent, and while China is concerned with maintaining order, they also would like their sovereign rights to be respected. Wang Yong remarks that it is China’s responsibility to “focus on fixing relations with other countries” before worrying about sovereignty.