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A maritime community for promoting peace

By Jin Yongming | China Daily | Updated: 2024-04-23 07:12
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April 23, 2024, marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of the People's Liberation Army Navy, which is dedicated to maintaining peace in the seas surrounding China.

Yet the South China Sea remains turbulent, because countries such as the Philippines continue to make provocative moves and involve non-regional parties into the fray, thereby disrupting regional peace and stability, and posing a threat to peace in the Asia-Pacific.

The idea of building a maritime community with a shared future, as proposed by President Xi Jinping in April 2019, is an inclusive approach to ocean governance and committed to upholding regional peace. The approach will help address various maritime challenges by integrating natural attributes, economic interests and cultural values, and addressing ecological concerns and security problems.

From a historical and cultural perspective, the concept of a maritime community with a shared future reflects the traditional Chinese values of harmony and coexistence. Throughout history, China has viewed the oceans as a source of connectivity, trade, and cultural exchanges. The ancient concept of "harmonious oceans" embodies the idea of peaceful coexistence among coastal countries, and the concept of a maritime community with a shared future extends this concept into contemporary maritime governance, emphasizing cooperation, mutual respect and sustainable development.

At its core, the concept seeks to achieve symbiosis and sustainable development between humanity and the marine ecology. It recognizes the interconnectedness of the marine ecosystem and human activities, and emphasizes the need for responsible stewardship of marine resources. By fostering cooperation and collaboration among maritime countries, the initiative aims to address common challenges such as marine pollution, overfishing and habitat destruction.

The objectives of building a maritime community with a shared future can be categorized into several key areas. Politically, it seeks to promote inclusiveness, as opposed to hegemony, and peaceful development. On the economic front, it aims to harness the potential of the maritime economy while ensuring that countries have equitable access to marine resources. Culturally, it advocates for an open and mutually enriching exchange between maritime cultures. And ecologically, it prioritizes marine environmental protection and the sustainable management of marine ecosystems.

To realize these objectives, it is essential to integrate the principles and spirit of a maritime community with maritime laws. This integration will provide a legal framework for cooperative governance and management of the oceans. The legal basis of the maritime community can be found in international maritime laws such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

However, existing maritime laws cannot safeguard the common interests of the global community. Some traditional legal principles often prioritize individual state interests over collective well-being.

Therefore, there is a need to adopt a new approach that would prioritize ecological integrity and better safeguard common interests — perhaps the concept of a global interest space, also known as an "international public domain" can serve the purpose, because it recognizes certain areas of the oceans as shared spaces that are not controlled by any state. To effectively manage these spaces, new legal mechanisms, such as ecosystem-based management and precautionary principles, must be adopted by states and international organizations.

A maritime community with a shared future is aimed at promoting cooperative management of global marine interests, and ensuring sustainable use and development of the oceans. But while it is difficult, almost impossible, to apply the principles of a community with a shared future in areas under national jurisdiction, they can be applied in areas beyond national jurisdictions and functional regimes of the oceans — in order to better protect the marine environment, promote scientific research, facilitate navigation, launch search and rescue operations, and fight transnational crimes.

But the application of a maritime community in specific areas requires balancing competing legal principles, such as UNCLOS, the common heritage of humankind, and the principle of sovereign equality among states. But achieving this balance will require dialogue, cooperation, and compromise among maritime countries.

Building a maritime community with a shared future based on maritime laws represents a significant step toward comprehensive ocean governance. By promoting cooperation, mutual respect and sustainable development, a maritime community with a shared future can help address the maritime challenges and safeguard the health of the oceans. But collective efforts from maritime countries, international organizations and other stakeholders will be needed to realize this vision. In short, by working together, we can build a brighter future for our oceans and ensure their well-being.

The author is a professor at the Institute for China's Ocean Security, Ocean University of China, and a senior researcher at the Institute of Ocean Development, Ocean University of China. The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.

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