South China Sea offers maritime cooperation possibilities

In the midst of a global pandemic, US voters have chosen Joe Biden as their next president, paving the way to a new era of science and hoped-for reason. Meanwhile, across the Pacific, China and Vietnam, both rivals in the contested South China Sea (SCS), have now embarked on a new era for ocean science with the potential for maritime cooperation. 

China recently hosted a two-day international ocean governance program with a roster of speakers from the US and SCS claimant nations, including the Philippines and Vietnam. The theme of the inaugural symposium, “Maritime Cooperation and Ocean Governance,” preceded Hanoi’s own program, “Maintaining Peace and Cooperation through Time of Turbulence,” being held this week. But what does all of this signal?

In this sea of opportunities, uncertainties and threats, environmental degradation remains at the center of scientific and policy conversations as more marine biologists and oceanographers sound the alarm over acidification, loss of biodiversity, climate change, destruction of coral reefs and fishery collapse. 

Because of these issues, there’s a rising chorus among Chinese and Vietnamese marine scientists who view the South China Sea as an ideal platform for promoting regional cooperation. The tide is lifting science-research survey vessels above the din of politics and sovereignty claims. It brings to the churning sea more central solutions for the region’s long-term peace and sustainability.

The respective programs also happen to correspond with the start of the 2021 UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development that offers a process that will be inclusive, participatory and global in its approach. 

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