China’s ocean century: What have been the maritime narrative?


In recent years, China has asserted that its maritime narrative differs from the West, indicating a unique approach. But what precisely constitutes China’s maritime narrative? How does China position itself in oceans governance? Today, I present three papers that examine China’s maritime narrative.

(Article) Preparing for the Ocean Century: China’s Changing Political Institutions for Ocean Governance and Maritime Development

This article was published by Tabitha Grace Mallory in 2015. She delves into China’s dynamic ocean development strategy (海洋发展战略) and the creation of civilian bodies to oversee maritime politics in preparation for the ‘ocean century’. China’s focus hinges on economic and resource concerns, coupled with security needs to safeguard these interests.

Drawing insights from Chinese-language sources, Mallory discusses about Chinese maritime perspective beyond the navy. The article navigates through the historical progression of China’s ocean strategy, encompassing economic interests, the evolution of political institutions governing ocean policy.

Mallory argues that China’s ocean development strategy transcends mere economic pursuits to embrace a holistic national ocean strategy, underscored by the paramount importance of resource security. The article concludes by exploring policy options for the United States and the potential for collaboration with China in ocean governance, particular on non-traditional security matters like fisheries management and marine environmental protection.

As an article published almost ten years ago, Mallory has offered an exhaustive analysis of China’s aspiration in ocean governance. Putting into today’s context, it is still applicable to China’s evolving maritime strategy and maritime economic interests. A fundamental reading for China’s maritime strategy beyond maritime security.

(Article) China’s ocean culture and consciousness: Constructing a maritime great power narrative

Another article by Tabitha Grace Mallory in 2022, co-authored with Andrew Chubb and Sallie Lau. The piece explores China’s intentional crafting of a maritime great power identity, focusing on ocean soft power promotion. It examines how China promote its maritime great power narrative through propaganda, education, and culture particularly since the 13th Five Year Plan.

The paper suggests that China’s construction of an ‘ocean identity’ can be traced back to the late 1970s. It gradually developed concepts such as ocean civilization (海洋文明) and blue territory (蓝色海域) in popular media. In February 2016, the government issued a document entitled “Promoting Ocean Soft Power—The 13th Five- year Plan for the People’s Ocean Consciousness Propaganda, Education and Cultural Construction”. It introduced National Ocean Consciousness Development Index. The goal was to enhance global maritime influence through initiatives like the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, emphasising ocean soft power.

The paper is interesting in a way that it showcases China’s use of propaganda and soft power to shape global opinion about its ocean identity. The use of history and traditional culture, such as Zheng He and Mazu, is impactful. Indeed, questions arise regarding the potential positive and negative impacts of China’s ocean soft power, domestically, regionally, and globally.

Overall, this is an important article that provides a thorough overview of China’s endeavours to mould its maritime identity and influence via ocean consciousness initiatives.

(Article) China’s Blue Economy: A State Project of Modernisation

The focus of maritime economy has always been the agenda of China’s maritime narrative. This systematic review critically examines China’s pursuit of the blue economy, suggesting how it can delve into economic, geopolitical, and ecological dimensions. Positioned as a tool for national rejuvenation, the blue economy underscores China’s unique model of maritime development.

The authors argue that the blue economy in China is seen as an opportunity to promote modernisation from overlapping economic, geopolitical and ecological perspectives and actions. It is central to China’s state-making goals, intertwining the three facets. This vision, propelled by the Communist Party, stands as a nationalist project, advancing socialist modernisation. Contrasting with Western paths, it suggests that ecological civilisation concept as morally superior, emphasising traditional connections with nature.

However, China’s objective prioritises economic and geopolitical goals over ecological sustainability. China’s global influence, particularly through initiatives like the Maritime Silk Road, reshapes diplomatic relationships and geopolitical power. This distinctive vision holds profound implications for global ocean governance, aligning with China’s broader strategy to actively shape global governance.

In summary, the article offers a comprehensive analysis of China’s blue economy approach. As the authors concern, we should be more aware of how such narrative could influence the shaping of global oceans governance.

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