The importance of maritime areas in the Pacific Ocean

Commentary: Regionalism and internationalization are essential for the proper management of inter-ocean traffic and trade, but they face challenges and threats

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Ocean governance has increased and developed with the continuous progress of globalization since the late 1940s and early 1950s, and it has gradually shaped two approaches: regionalism and internationalization.

Currently, the internationalist pathway of ocean governance is facing headwinds: the challenges of anti-globalization, populism, nationalism, economic protectionism and unilateralism.

The regionalism and internationalization approaches to ocean governance have their advantages and complement each other. Faced with challenges and threats, they are essential for the proper management of inter-ocean traffic and trade, while the advantages of regionalism will gradually be incorporated, thus creating a hybrid pathway.

China, which supports a multilateral pathway by promoting cooperation on maritime governance in the South China Sea and the surrounding areas, is endeavoring to gaining more voice in the reconstruction of the world maritime governance system, so as to favor the most feasible option of building an "ocean community".

Other countries of greater or lesser importance in the strategic balance of power are also acting in this direction. The future is thalassocratic and this is mainly demonstrated by the 8th Annual World Ocean Conference (WCO-2019) held on November 2-4, 2019 in Shenzhen, China.

Heads of State and government, as well as distinguished guests from around the world, were present at the opening ceremony, representing over 30 countries. Over 500 conference attendees spoke during the three-day conference.

Not only China, however, is taking action along these lines. Both the United States and Japan attach great importance to the security of maritime channels, and both sides have their own strategic understandings and arrangements.

As previously noted, securing their presence in the maritime channels is the main pathway for the two countries in view of deepening military cooperation and promoting the strengthening of their alliance.

Within this alliance, the continuous improvement of the "self-defence" ability of the Japanese maritime channel is not reflected only in Japan's response to the strategic needs of the ally, but is also shown by the fact that Japan - outside the framework of the Japanese-U.S. agreements - takes independent actions from time to time.

It attempts to rebuild its own maritime power, although the U.S. and Japanese unitary strategic priorities are different. The two countries have taken various measures to intervene jointly in maritime rights disputes in the region where a certain maritime channel is located, and this intensifies regional security tensions. 

Furthermore, since the Cold War the security cooperation between Japan and Australia has gradually strengthened, and the transition from "indirect" to "quasi" allies has been achieved. There are three main reasons underlying all this: the United States has been promoting it; the economic spillover between the two countries; holding China off.

This has multiple impacts on the bilateral relations between the two countries, as well as on the Asia-Pacific alliance system, and on the regional security environment. With regard to China, attention must be paid to its autonomy and to the enhanced integration of interests with Japan and Australia, with a view to reducing the probable security threats to the Middle Empire, and fostering the construction of a diverse and inclusive regional security order in the South China Sea region.

As starting point of the 21st century Maritime Silk Road, the said sea is also the central area of the strategic transformation of China's Defence and Merchant Navy. The South China Sea is not only the intersection of China's two X-shaped strategic maritime lines derived from the Silk Road, but also China's "Asian Mediterranean" and "Caribbean Sea", i.e. the starting point for the central strategic transformation of the Chinese Navy.

In the Silk Road context, the construction of the future Chinese Navy will gradually define the South China Sea as the basic axis that will develop the strategy from the Indian Ocean to the Western Pacific Ocean: the South China Sea as the strategic foundation of the Silk Road, with all its consequences from the economic, commercial, military and hence geopolitical viewpoints.

Meanwhile, China and the Philippines - an important factor in that sea - have been actively promoting oil and gas development cooperation in the South China Sea in recent years.

The legal obstacles in the early joint development practices between the two sides are still the main restrictive factors in advancing cooperation. China and the Philippines have differences over the fact that part of the Nasha Archipelago (the Spratly Islands, rich in deep-sea oil fields) are disputed between the People’s Republic of China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, Brunei and Vietnam.

It is difficult for both sides to reach an agreement on the legal nature and implementation of the law for development cooperation. 

In the current legal dilemma and in the situation of the South China Sea, this may become an additional factor of friction. While taking the opportunity to resolve this legal dilemma, it is particularly necessary to apply international law in this dispute.

Since the time when the United States has proposed the Indo-Pacific strategy, Japan, India and Australia - the three pillars of the White House's maritime strategy - have responded positively, by introducing their own geopolitics and establishing the so-called four-nation mechanism.

ASEAN, which is located in the core area of the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy, has never been paid the attention it deserves from the United States, thus showing hesitations towards the White House strategy.

It believes that the U.S. moves in the South China Sea hinder the development and security of the respective countries. Due to the inability to deal with China on its own, the United States is pursuing the Southeast Asianisation of its strategy by relying on large countries in the macro-region and neglecting the less powerful ones, instead of directly favoring the ASEAN States.

In essence, the United States has minimized ASEAN's internal unity and shaken the presence of that international organization in the region.

With specific reference to Europe and the former great British and French Navies, there is nothing or almost nothing in geopolitical terms. As to Italy which, at least since the end of World War II, has no longer pathetic sea imperialistic ambitions, like the aforementioned countries, we can perceive some interesting developments.

The connection between Genoa and Shenzhen, one of the main ports of call in China, which alone generated a GDP of 352 billion dollars in 2018, is already well-established.

Shenzhen Port is a collective name for a series of ports along parts of the Shenzhen coastline in the Guangdong Province, including Yantian, Shekou, Chiwan, Mawan, Dachan Bay, Dongjiaotou, Fuyong and Xiagong.

During President Xi Jinping's visit to Italy in March 2019, an agreement was signed with the aim of cooperating in the implementation of the extraordinary urgent investment program for the recovery and development of the Genoa Port following the collapse of the Morandi Bridge in August 2018.

During the visit, 39 institutional and commercial agreements were signed, covering a wide range of topics and industrial sectors, all dominated by a comprehensive non-binding treaty for Italy to cooperate with China in the new Silk Road.

Italy has opportunities to develop one of the major areas of the Chinese will of change, i.e. environmental-friendly and abundant renewables. This objective includes the studies for tidal energy.

The University of Pisa has studied a device placed on the sea bottom and a mobile system following the tidal cycle. Chinese concerns about the elimination of coal or the advantages of desalination should not be overlooked.

With specific reference to tidal energy, European universities - the Turin University, in particular - have identified three optimization strategies: a) turbines working in both directions of the tide-induced currents; b) turbines installed under floats, but without exposing the devices to storms; c) turbines attached to cables, as designed for the equipment in the Strait of Messina.

Also Dimemo, a system for obtaining tidal energy operating in the Port of Naples, is working perfectly.

 

Professor Valori is President of the International World Group