Bulk of southern China was under sea about 400 mln years ago: study

Rising hostilities in the area indicate a serious threat to Southeast Asia’s geopolitical & ecological security, rather than acting as promising gateway for ocean research & peace.

Bulk of southern China was under sea about 400 mln years ago: study

The South China Sea serves as a singular natural laboratory for ocean research and exploration. However, there are ongoing territorial disputes between China, Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei in this rifted basin, which is dotted with atolls, coral reefs, and islets, some of which have only recently been reclaimed.

Rising hostilities and mistrust in the area indicate a serious threat to Southeast Asia’s geopolitical and ecological security, rather than acting as a promising gateway for ocean research, peace, and prosperity.

The ten ASEAN member states, totaling more than 625 million people, depend on a healthy global ocean. Meanwhile, an ecological catastrophe is taking place in the area’s formerly productive and sought-after fishing grounds, which is causing coral reefs to die.

It is not surprising that more marine biologists’ voices are important in a rules-based ecological approach to protect the environment and the threats to endangered species, such as sea turtles, sharks, and giant clams, as reclamations destroy marine habitats, industrial and agricultural runoff pollutes coastal waters, and overfishing depletes fish stocks.

ASEAN science cooperation forums and workshops are shaping a new South China Sea narrative about the ecological dangers of biodiversity loss, climate change, coral reef depletion, pollution, and collapsing fisheries.

Professor Nianzhi Jiao, an ecologist at Xiamen University, encourages scientists to focus on the bigger and more important questions central to humanity’s long-term wellbeing. There are historical precedents for oceanic international collaboration, such as the IODP tectonic drilling surveys conducted in 2014.

The collaboration chronicle includes the Joint Oceanographic Marine Scientific Research Expeditions (JOMSRE-SCS) conducted between the Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea from 1996–2007. The Philippines and Vietnam have agreed to resume their joint marine scientific expedition later in 2022.

Additionally, China and Vietnam established a Working Group on Cooperation for Maritime Development to enhance cooperation in waters beyond the Gulf of Tonkin. Both nations successfully carried out bilateral maritime cooperation on sea-wave storm tide forecast models.

Marine scientists believe that effective ocean science cooperation research is best achieved by examining common interests in the region, such as climate change, ocean acidification, severe weather patterns, and the role of marine protected areas.

China has previously participated in the International Oceanographic Commission (IOC) for the Western Pacific (WESTPAC) and the Monsoon Onset Monitoring and its Social and Ecosystem Impacts (MOMSEI). This bodes well for sharing data from ocean observatories and depoliticizing ongoing pressures in the South China Sea.

Dr. Weidong Yu, a senior researcher at Sun Tat-Sen University, advocates for regional oceanographic cooperation to address climate change, extreme weather, and marine ecosystems. Science diplomacy is a new approach to international relations, and the timing for its adoption in dispute management in the South China Sea has arrived.

Science has been adopted as a diplomatic tool for peacebuilding by many countries, and there are many organizations that strengthen global scientific relationships.

Science diplomacy has been used effectively in the Arctic through the Arctic Council, a leading intergovernmental forum established in 1996. Through their scientific leadership, the Council members have enacted several legally binding agreements reinforcing environmental protection and sustainability.

The Arctic Science Agreement was signed in May 2017 to enhance scientific cooperation even when diplomatic channels are unstable, recognizing first the importance of maintaining peace, stability, and constructive cooperation in the Arctic.

China’s embrace of science cooperation is seen as evidence of their ‘peaceful rise’, but its blue water ambitions and regional hegemonic actions in the South China Sea are a threat to all states in the region.

To prevent geopolitical battles over the management of marine resources in the “Global Commons,” claimant nations must expand scientific forums and collaborative problem solving among all neighbors. Science diplomacy is defined by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) as three types: science diplomacy, diplomacy for science, and science diplomacy.

Science diplomacy contributes to conflict resolution by providing a context for countries to express their true perception of the region without being influenced by nationalistic, political, or economic factors.

Policy makers should consider how best to address sovereignty claims through the lens of science, as marine biologists and oceanographers recognize the structure of a coral reef is strewn with the wreckage of ongoing conflict and represents one of nature’s cruellest battlefields.

The expansion of marine protected areas to mitigate the collapse of fisheries in the region is a major concern due to destructive fishing practices and climate change. China has more than 270 marine protected areas, and Vietnam has 12.

This linkage is an opportunity for renewal of the China-ASEAN Cooperation Framework, as Beijing has significant maritime resources and data sharing and mapping of ecologically sensitive areas can support fisheries for the benefit of all states.

Science diplomacy can provide a starting point for regional cooperation to address environmental and economic issues, such as those in the South China Sea. The Biden administration has called managing America’s relationship with Beijing “the biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century.”

WHOI and the Ocean University of China have been promoting research collaborations in deep-ocean and coastal regions in a changing climate.

In actuality, the status quo of the South China Sea disputes is unaffected by cooperative science activities.

However, by developing a variety of confidence-building activities with all the involved parties engaged, rather than stopping all activities and deadlocking the South China Sea issue, especially with regard to environmental and economic aspects, it keeps the hope for a resolution to these disputes alive.

For the time being, the possibility of scientific research surveys may be rising above the geopolitical clamor and the conflict over sovereignty claims.