An Ninh Môi Trường ở Biển Đông

When Politics, the Environment, and Advocacy Compete–Environmental Security in the South China Sea

Tác giả: Wiley C. Thompson

Trong sách “The Environment-Conflict Nexus. Advances in Military Geosciences,” do Galgano F. chủ biên, NXB Springer năm 2019

Mặt bằng rạn san hô tương đối còn tốt nhưng đã bị đánh bắt quá mức xung quanh đảo Thị Tứ.


Island building in the South China Sea by China and other neighbors continues at a destructive and unprecedented rate. China now occupies more than 3000 acres of artificially constructed island space and has built land at a pace that is 17 times greater in recent years than all other claimants have built in combined efforts over the past 40 years. While calls for accountability by some national actors have been insistent, voices from non–governmental actors are largely absent. As the entire region is very complex, a holistic understanding of the operational setting demands: a full appreciation of the ability for stakeholders to hold regional actors accountable; an examination of key major environmental issues; and an analysis of regional security risks through a modified approach for assessing non-land based environmental security. This chapter examines these issues, models outcomes if no intervention is offered, and recommends contexts where China can be influenced and may be more willing to amend their activities in the region.


The value of using a model is in its ability to help us understand complex realities in a more simplified and applicable framework. By modelling and identifying critical attributes and paths we can also look for opportunities to intervene and shape or prevent actions that would lead to undesirable outcomes.

First what should be considered is what can be done to influence a country of 1.38 billion people that has a U.S. $7.0 trillion global economy that sits on a 3.7 million square mile land mass? The answer, at least partially, may lie in looking for what motivates China, and what it values. As noted by Homer–Dixon, assessing the environment and security must incorporate the motivations of other actors in the region in addition to change and scarcity in the environment. According to Dr. Alex Vuving, a faculty member at the Asia–Pacific Center for Security Studies, the interests in the region of most actors largely center on power, resources, and sovereignty, though they vary from country to country. When it comes to China, Vuving suggests that they are playing Weiqi or Go, not chess. Not seeking victory through checkmate, China is seeking victory through encirclement, territorial gain, and control. He further notes that China does not fear singular attacks as they have a history of carrot and stick diplomacy, selective punishment methods, and an “attack us once we will attack you 1,000 times” mentality. Evidence of this was displayed in the pre-emptive rejection of 2016 The Hague Tribunal findings ahead of the official release and then their resolute rejection following the official release.

When it comes to the motivations of regional actors Vuving suggests that China’s objective is first and foremost power and that they are pursuing it in a Mahanian control of the seas in a total hegemonic fashion. The Philippines, he suggests, prioritize resources (i.e., oil and gas) first then, sovereignty. Malaysia values resources (i.e., oil and gas), then sovereignty while Vietnam is mostly focused on sovereignty. Brunei has the least issues of anyone, they would prioritize sovereignty above all. While it appears that there will be little chance of direct conflict between any state actor and China, there are already confrontations between navies and fishing vessels and the conditions are set for the risk of conflict, taking on a variety of manifestations between sub-state actors.

In his chapter entitled, “Geopolitics and the dragon’s advance: An exploration of the strategy and reality of China’s growing economic and military power and its effect upon Taiwan,” Dr. Clifton Pannell (2011), one of the foremost U.S. experts in China’s human geography advised that from the Chinese perspective, “victory will be based on the full support of a prosperous and contented population while engaging in strategic diplomacy in step with military preparations” (Pannell 2011, p 361). All of these are clearly evident in the context of environmental issues internally and in the SCS. When the air becomes so polluted that the harm it produces is undeniable to Chinese citizens and global media attention makes emissions an embarrassing issue to the Chinese government, the government takes action.

Though less visible, the government has taken action to clean up Chinese rivers and coastal waters, while in the interim, providing fuel and ice subsidies to off-shore fishing fleets, giving them not only an alternative fishing opportunity and making them an implement of the national security apparatus in the process. Again the prosperous and contented population takes primacy and gets action. As Beijing has thumbed its nose at the Tribunal’s ruling, the challenge, if the U.S. wants to make the environment an issue with any leverage, is how to get the global community to rally behind an environmental call to arms over rock and coral that amount to an almost immeasurable area of the SCS. With no check on China’s behavior, either from a legal, diplomatic, or influence of domestic support/approval mechanism, consideration must be given to Dr. Pannell’s argument that the Second Island Chain is soon to follow as military and technological capabilities and resources mature.

Given little apparent desire to challenge destructive policies from the environmental community and China’s refusal to accept the Tribunal’s ruling, policy makers may consider developing strategies from Homer-Dixon’s framework to intercede and mitigate the risk of deprivation conflicts? Any strategy developed would be best applied in the early stages where sources of environmental scarcity are created: a decrease in quality and quantity of renewable resources; population growth; and unequal resource access. This will impact all scarcity generators except for population growth, which may be negligible from the perspective of populating the built islands.

The two sources of environmental scarcity that can be influenced through are a decrease in quality and quantity of renewable resources  and unequal resource access. In order to mitigate the risk of conflict, economic opportunity and productivity must be secured. To do this, marine resources must be sustainably managed and reasonable and equitable access must be offered. U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), while the source of contention with island building, may be a platform that can be used to find cooperation when it comes to managing the marine harvest. This could be further strengthened with the enforcement of UN Fish Stocks Agreements. Another mechanism that would assist in this effort is more concerted efforts to decrease illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. All of these suggestions would require acceptance, compliance and enforcement of these international agreements. However, unlike the coral destruction and island building, failed compliance is likely to get the attention and advocacy from environmental groups, something that has not happened with coral, but would have the same outcome. In this situation, sustainable fishing is primarily an environmental issue, with negative impact on livelihoods and species depletion being the outcomes of failed action.

Another opportunity to protect marine resources and create the conditions for equal access may actually come through denying or limiting access. Creating marine protected areas (MPAs) or “marine peace parks” as suggested over two decades ago by Dr. McManus could function as a mechanism to control and balance access to space. Environmental groups would be very unlikely to engage on issues related to UNCLOS disputes over territorial waters or exclusive economic zones which are how the island building disputes are seen right now. Sanctuaries or protected parks can function to limit access to fishing fleets and also limit China’s island building activities. If the parks included islands already developed, given the Tribunal’s ruling that China has no claim to these areas, the Chinese may be compelled, through “shamefare” by environmental groups to abandon these posts. Refusing to abandon the destructive activities associated with military occupancy (waste management, fuel/oil/chemical spills, and noise hazards), especially if they are now taking place in the middle of a marine sanctuary, may finally get environmental advocacy groups engaged.

In the end, the only way to make security issues in the South China into environmental issues is to truly make them environmental issues. If the U.S. and other interested actors can construct a framework of compelling environmental issues that leave no room for China’s expansionist aims and makes the issues resonate with environmental primacy, then environmental advocacy may become a reality, as long as security remains masked as a distant and collateral outcome. Finally, analyzing security interests that intersect with the environment through validated frameworks can offer new perspectives, alternative hypotheses, and a more constructive voice in which to communicate with non-security minded audiences. Military strategists and policy makers should consider adapting these frameworks, when appropriate to develop a more holistic understanding of the complex issues they face. As the global population continues to increase and consumption rises along with it and as climate change modifies the environment, impacting opportunities for livelihoods, all stakeholders will eventually come to the realization that security issues and environmental issues are truly co-equals and those who viewed them in that manner all along were well ahead of the rest.

Tải toàn văn chương sách tại Wiley C. Thompson (2019) When Politics, the Environment, and Advocary Compete-Environmental Security in the South China Sea

Những bài đăng trên Dự án Đại Sự Ký Biển Đông thể hiện quan điểm riêng của tác giả, không nhất thiết là quan điểm của tất cả các thành viên, cộng tác viên hay nhà tài trợ Dự án Đại Sự Ký Biển Đông.


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