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By Jonathan Brooks
On the 31st of January the Henry Jackson Society hosted Admiral Chen Yeong-kang, alongside Dr Alessio Patalano of Kings College London and Dr John Hemmings of the Henry Jackson Society at the House of Lords at an event entitled “Maritime Cooperation & Competition in Asia: Challenges and Opportunities”, notably chaired by Admiral, the Lord West of Spithead.
The talk began with the introduction of the panellists and a presentation by Admiral Chen, which utilised instructive visual aids that detailed the intricacies of contested maritime affairs in The South and East China Seas and beyond, stressing the importance of regional security and cooperation not just as an issue for the neighbouring states and alliances, but should be considered in a more global and economic context. This was linked to Taiwan and the maritime importance of the Taiwan Strait was further expanded upon, as a key strategic trading route for global commerce it has become a focal point of several sovereignty claims, and while Taiwan could not and did not want to enter an military or economic arms race with China, it must still play a pivotal part in the security of the region.
Admiral Chen went on to express the changing methodologies of Chinese foreign policy, citing a move away from ‘taoguang yahui’, or keeping a low profile as a means to conceal China’s military and economic capabilities, into a new era of a more emboldened China with a more expansionist agenda that plays a larger role in regional, maritime and global affairs. He then explained that the modernisation of China’s military capabilities and its ambitions to be a naval superpower directly intended to restrict US access and influence in the region, expanding naval control further and further from her shores to move beyond the Taiwan Strait and form a 2nd island chain. Admiral Chen went onto to cite the One Belt and One Road Initiative as an exemplar of both China’s new expanded ambitions on the geopolitical stage and its economic power. Before summing up his address, Admiral Chen reiterated the importance of compromise and diplomacy for maritime security, and noted the importance of educating the next generation for the challenges that lay ahead, arguing “Capable people are much more important than missiles”.
After a round of applause thanking Admiral Chen, Dr Patalano began to expound on the maritime ambitions of China and the consequential militarisation of the region’s seas, stating the issue can be contextualised as three sets of issues; economic exportation, political affirmation and the projection of power. Indeed, he argued, this was one of the only place in the world where the connecting fabrics, rather than actual land mass, was the point of contention. However, Dr Patalano drew on instances of diplomatic cooperation which were able to defuse territorial disputes as a potential model for future ways forward. This was followed by Dr John Hemmings who reiterated the global importance for Asian maritime security, describing how approximately 40% of EU trade passes through The South China Sea. Dr Hemmings went on to explain the potential psychological impact, (in addition to the military, economic and diplomatic consequences) for US allies in the region if China was to dominate all strategic nautical shipping lanes and diminish the influences of US alliances in the region.
The floor was then opened up for questions from the multitude of attendees, with each of the panellists answering a diverse range of questions from maritime issues regarding North Korea to whether there was a role for the British government to play in the future of Asian maritime security.
The Henry Jackson Society would like to thank all the panellists for taking the time to educate and inform us on such an important topic, and all the guests who attended, for making this such a successful event.