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Why is the 'Free Sea' in the future an illusion?

Hugo de Groot stated that to have a peaceful global community everyone should have free access to the sea so they are freely able to connect with every nation one wants to connect to. Mare Liberum.

China's claim

China triggered this question because they claim the whole South China Seas as their territory. It cause concerns in the West and with their neighbors, but eventually will end up in one-to-one dialogues to solutions that lead to fixed boundaries in that seas. So China has totally control, under and above the water.

The Chinese have always been land oriented. Horses and fights inland, and abdicated after 1421 the Zheng He sea convoys which reached in peace many countries outside China even before Columbus went to the Americas.

An example out of my practice in China. In my project, Shell Nanhai, the Chinese omitted unconsciously the scope of the marine side. Jetties,tanks and underwater pipelines including the Government approval to upgrade the local port to an international one. With my naval architectural academic background and affinity with shipping, I asked for the marine scope and found out that we had to catch-up in a hurry to get it determined and executed and approved. It all was realized, just in time.

Who’s advantage was the ‘free sea?’

The Portuguese, Spanish, Brits, Dutch and Scandinavians have been seafarers for ages.Their interest is a ‘free sea’.

The British focussed on naval dominance, more than the Dutch and achieved an empire based on the free sea with strategic strong naval points all over the world. The preceding Dutch Golden Age was built on ‘free sea’ and trade.

The Law of the Sea

Since the Japanese attacked the USA in Pearl Harbor, the USA developed a naval military power unprecedented and could thereby win the second world war. The battle of Britain was not only an air battle but also a supply chain battle in the North Atlantic. Dominance over seas was military very important and based on the free sea. The Law of The Sea is the main legal convenant governing the use of the sea.

More on the Law of the Sea

Two new developments undermine the ‘free sea’.

One. The natural resources under the sea bed, such as oil, gas, minerals. Second. The air above the sea. In Europe both are nationalized. The North Sea is divided in parts for Norway, Denmark, Germany, Holland and the UK. Oil/gas exploitation is based on this division in the North Sea. The air traffic safety requires good division and coordination of air traffic control by national aviation authorities and multinational agreements. So the air is not free.

China needs

a "Chinese Wall” in it’s neighboring seas, the South China Sea. They want absolute control inside their boundaries and do not like uncertain boundaries where foreign influences and interferences can happen. Major investments, also by foreign direct investments, have always taken place in the coastal areas. Mao built plants inside the land, but that was economically a waste. Now major developments are all close to the coast. The coast is long and many rivers provide inland connections.

It is a geographical advantage of China as says Robert Kaplan in "The revenge of geography”.

Listen to Robert Kaplan

Why not give in?

So why not give in and make the Pacific Ocean a USA territory and South China Sea a Chinese territory?

Split The Atlantic between Europe, Africa and the Americas.

It will not happen overnight, but must be addressed in economic, academic and political circles.

No easy solutions, but solutions needed for stability in the global scene. Start with Europe where the North Seas is the example. Then address the Mediterranean and so forth. China will make bilaterally agreements with neighbors around the South China Sea. No need for USA to interfere, just learn how to use it for the Pacific. How will Japan fit in the game? They have isolated themselves globally because of ignoring the cruelties with China and Asia in their past. Now they have little friends to help. USA has the key, if they see this new challenge as their security and economic challenge.

The lead should and will come from Europe.

Frans van Gunsteren

2017 August 3

I invite you to start a conversation with me and comment on my thinking.

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© 2019 TonVoogtConsultancy ~ Recent Update 24-08-2017
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