August 19, 2020

Seminar jointly organized by the Asian Affairs Committee and the CARI Institute for International Security and Strategic Affairs (ISIAE)

By Tomás Seré, Volunteer for CARI's Communications Division
Translated by Isabella Rocco

In the second edition of conferences jointly organized by the Asian Affairs Committee and the CARI Institute for International Security and Strategic Affairs (ISIAE), more than 150 participants witnessed extensive debate about the dynamics of China's Southern Sea dispute on August 19th.

With this logic, under the moderation of academic Secretary Juan Battaleme, there were three specialists in the field: Julio Hang, director of ISIAE, Jorge Malena, coordinator of the Chinese Group, and the Commodus of Marina VGM (RE), Ernesto Ganeau. It was mainly focused on the territorial dispute in Pacific Asia, the conflict over global hegemony between the United States and China, the preparation provided by President Xi Jinping and the possible implications that the situation could have on the Argentine Republic.

In this way, Julio Hang focused on the full Chinese military development, stating that it focuses mainly on the cybernetic areas (cyberattacks) and naval areas. In this vein, even without China being a nation that has historically sought to explore other continents with external attacks, the defense budget grew enormously in recent years (a factor that is clearly reflected in its missile capabilities, for example). "By 2035 all forces must be modernized, and by 2049 China must be a world-class armed force. This means that there should be no other force beyond its capacity for that year", Hang said. To which he added: "Modernization effectively began with the rise of Marines, who have the sole objective of fighting on other people's beaches and their importance is reflected in the inauguration of the first outer base with a very important location in Djibouti".

However, beyond the production of weapons of all kinds that have already reached international levels, for the director of ISIAE, the highlight is probably Chinese cyber progress. In fact, its method of victory theory and its intelligence to hack information were listed by Hang as some of its essential weapons: "in many cases Western powers identified attacks or looting of systems from China and highlighted their ability to upgrade in cyber interference and defense. Chinese doctrine argues that destroying the influence of enemy satellites on its territory is a priority and what needs to be done at the beginning of a contest (disrupting C4ISR networks affecting their resolution capacity)", he explained.

Under the same criteria, Jorge Malena highlighted that there are very few countries where foreign policy is defined by the thinking of its leader and that China is one of them. Indeed, in addition to being president of the People's Republic and Secretary-General of the Communist Party, Xi Jinping holds seven senior positions in foreign policy and national defense. Thus—according to Malena—the leader's thinking regarding diplomacy marks the direction of Chinese international relations. In addition, the coordinator of the China Group again focused on the maritime-strategic-military vision of the Republic and cited statements by Xi Jinping himself: "History teaches us that a country will ascend if it dominates the oceans and fall if it disregards them, so we must adopt a project that makes use of the sea to turn China into a rich and powerful state". This explains, of course, the importance of the dispute in the South Sea and the complex geopolitical situation of territorial interests that arises because of the sovereignty of the islands, the delimitation of maritime areas, and the delimitation of resources.

To this end, Eduardo Ganeau exhibited the strategic relevance of China's Southern Sea and showed the great complexity of the issue for various reasons. The first factor to consider according to Ganeau is the number of regional actors (China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, United States – which looks forward to guam Island several decades ago – etc.) and non-regional actors (Japan, South Korea, United Kingdom, Australia and India) with interests in the area. In this way, interests that are supported by the history of countries and by the evolution of international law of the sea overlap. In addition, it should be added that the area has significant fishery and hydrocarbon resources, that 50% of world trade flows there, and that 50% of the region's countries' exports pass through that sea (for Vietnam 90%).

For the Marine Commodus VGM (RE), the complications, in turn, are exacerbated by the struggle between today's two great powers: the United States and China. "In regional hegemony, the dispute between the U.S. and China cannot be isolated. It manifests itself in practice with chinese technological and sovereignty developments (economic, political, military) over the islands it owns; which coexists with the presence of the U.S. with all of its forces in the region, and with the fundamental objective of preserving freedom of navigation (one of the essential requirements to maintain its economic might)", he explained. In this regard, Ganeau also asserted that the partnership of cooperation formed between Russia and the People's Republic of China became a clear threat to U.S. rule, as an unprecedented partnership was achieved that establishes a perfect combination between a country that has many energy resources and large unpopulous areas, and another that has significant economic benevolence, technological development, and large energy shortages.

In short, for Ganeau, China wants security and internal cohesion, to maintain economic growth, regional hegemony, and to not be delegated to global decisions by the U.S. Thus, in the pursuit of stability in the region and maintaining its power, the People's Republic of China desires dominance of the islands it desires in the southern sea and needs lines of maritime communication. However, in the hegemony dispute there is always a risk of falling into the Thucydides trap, assuming that everything will end in an armed conflict. With this criterion, CARI's Asian Affairs Committee Director Eduardo Sadous closed the talk with the assertion that Argentina must strike a balance between the two major powers, the United States and China, as part of a global conflict and possible trigger for confrontations between these actors. "It is a tremendously strategic area for the world and for Argentina, because China became our main trading partner. You have to be very attentive to what happens", Sadous said.