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Maritime disputes between China and some neighboring countries have escalated in recent years. The Philippines and Vietnam have tried every means they can think of to strengthen their illegal occupation of China's Nansha Islands. In the East China Sea, some Japanese right-wing politicians have staged the farce of trying to "buy" the Diaoyu Islands, over which China owns indisputable sovereignty. And in the Yellow Sea, fishery disputes between China and the Republic of Korea happen quite frequently.
A number of factors have contributed to the current maritime challenges facing China.
The first is the specific territorial disputes between China and some neighboring countries, which have been aggravated by the lack of strategic trust between the United States and China. The maritime sovereignty disputes between China and Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines are complex and troublesome, and the last thing China wants is to see these countries and the US joining hands against China. In fact, China and the US have no maritime sovereignty disputes, they are contending for sea power and influence.
Second, some countries depend on China's huge market for economic development while relying on the US for security. This security dependency is being exploited by the US.
Third, the US and Japan are trying to maintain their maritime dominance in the Asia-Pacific region, and the ROK, ASEAN countries and India are moving closer to the US-Japan alliance.
Meanwhile, the US' new defense strategy emphasizes the strategically vital arc that extends from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia.
The US is speeding up the adjustment of its Asia-Pacific strategy, attempting to "rebalance" in the three major "island chains" of the Western Pacific, in a bid to consolidate its maritime hegemony in Asia Pacific.
Recently US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced the US will reposition its naval forces so that 60 percent of them will be in the Asia-Pacific region by 2020.
The US has held frequent joint military exercise with Japan and the ROK, and announced it will deploy littoral combat ships in Singapore in a bid to step up its involvement in the South China Sea. It has also deployed troops in Darwin, Australia, and is redeploying the 9,000 marines stationed in Okinawa to Guam, Australia and Hawaii.
Panetta and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have also said that if the US is to fully assert its role as a global leader, it must accede to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the US should be exerting a leadership role in the development and interpretation of the rules that determine legal certainty on the world's oceans.
Against this backdrop, China's maritime strategy should focus on the following:
First, it should clarify its maritime strategy based on the three pillars of traditional and non-traditional maritime security; marine economy and technology; and its diplomatic strategy, making full use of international law, including the Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Second, it should strive for an understanding with the US and explore a bilateral coordination mechanism to maintain a dynamic balance of competition and cooperation. China has no intention of challenging the US' maritime hegemony, so the US should respect China's maritime rights and interests "on its doorstep".
Sino-Russian and Sino-Indian cooperation should be expanded and Sino-Japanese competition controlled.
China and Russia are making efforts to safeguard their legitimate maritime rights and interests and held a large-scale joint military exercise in the Yellow Sea in April.
Third, it must avoid getting isolated while dealing with the territorial disputes with Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam.
Fourth, China must resolutely and effectively defend its maritime territorial sovereignty and core interests. It must resolve disputes caused by overlapping exclusive economic zone and fishery and oil, gas and mineral resources disputes through negotiations and consultations, and safeguard the security of sea-lanes through regional multilateral cooperation.
Fifth, China should establish an institutional mechanism to develop its marine economy and integrate the use of law enforcement, diplomatic, military and other means, strengthen department coordination, and coordination between the central government and coastal provinces, and set up a national institution specifically responsible for dealing with marine affairs.
The author is deputy director of the Institute of World Political Studies in the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR).
(China Daily 06/11/2012 page9)