Making sense of ‘Maritime Community of Common Destiny’

In April 2019, during the Chinese Navy’s seventieth anniversary, President Xi Jinping unveiled China’s vision of establishing a ‘maritime community of common destiny’ (海洋命运共同体). This slogan has sparked extensive discussions among Chinese scholars , serving primarily as a propagandised term rather than a practical policy innovation. However, within this concept, we can still identify several recurring themes.

This week, I will explore three Chinese articles published in Asia-Pacific Security and Maritime Affairs (亚太安全与海洋研究), a prestigious international relations journal in China, that shed light on China’s understanding of the ‘maritime community of common destiny’ in maritime security strategy.

The time implication and the mission of China in the concept of a maritime community with a shared future(Article)

This article is written by Wu Shicun, who is the founding president of National Institute for South China Sea Studies. The paper consists of two parts. Wu initially examines the challenges within the existing maritime order, attributing its limitations primarily to the dominance of established sea powers, with occasional references to the US.

He argues that ‘The US and other countries are pursuing hegemony, seeking their own absolute security, and strengthening military alliances,’ criticising the US for controlling agenda setting, norms, practices, and resource allocation in maritime security, without considering reforms proposed by other maritime states. This sentiment reflects China’s dissatisfaction with the current international order.

Professor Wu asserts the necessity of introducing the concept of a maritime community of common destiny. He suggests that this concept stands in contrast to Western hegemonism, emphasising the pursuit of common interests on a fair and equal platform. Although the article does not outline specific policy agendas for ocean governance in the South China Sea, it sheds light on China’s belief in an ‘alternative’ maritime order.

From a ‘community with a shared future for mankind’ to ‘maritime community with a shared future’ (Article)

Zhu Feng, the Executive Director of the China Centre for Collaborative Studies of the South China Sea and a Professor of International Relations at Nanjing University, presents another perspective on China’s maritime strategy. Like Wu Shicun, Professor Zhu criticises US hegemonism for undermining the existing international order and advocates for an alternative mechanism in ocean governance. Rather than calling for a more equitable maritime order, Zhu refers to the maritime community of common destiny as multilateralism, connecting it to a broader international relations concept.

Zhu specifically highlights the importance of environmental sustainability within the aspiration of a maritime community of common destiny. He argues that the concept of ‘common destiny’ encompasses not only interactions between people but also the relationship between maritime domains and human beings. Essentially, his emphasis on environmental sustainability serves as another critique of Western sea powers, accusing them of historically dominating the allocation of marine resources, resulting in excessive exploitation and environmental issues.

In summary, this article seeks to link China’s maritime strategy with the rhetoric of the ‘Community with a Shared Future for Mankind’ (人类命运共同体). As the latter concept encompasses China’s aspirations in global governance, it provides a broader context for understanding the maritime community of common destiny.

Relevant theoretic issues of the ‘community of maritime destiny’ (Article)

In the realm of exploring the ‘maritime community of common destiny,’ there is an article that delves into Chinese ideology in this regard. The author draws upon Mengzi’s philosophical thoughts to introduce the concept of ‘harmony between man and nature’ (天人合一) within the maritime domain. The article emphasizes the importance of respecting nature and others as a foundation for good governance, primarily focusing on environmental sustainability. Additionally, the author touches upon the idea of harmony between individuals and states.

However, I must admit that I find the philosophical discussion in this article somewhat far-fetched. Historically speaking, China was a fragmented nation and did not possess a strong inclination towards the sea. Hence, the author’s application of Chinese philosophy to discuss ideals within the maritime community of common destiny may seem somewhat forced. Despite its limited academic significance, this article can be seen as a playful read.

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