China Should Establish the World Oceans Organization, Argues Wuhan University School of Law Professor

Title: Modern China and the Transformation of the Global Oceans Governance System (新时代中国深度参与全球海洋治理体系的变革)
Journal: Science of Law (法律科学)
Author:Yang Zewei, Wuhan University School of Law (杨泽伟)
Publication Date: August 2019

  • China’s maritime interests are quickly expanding beyond simply control of territorial waters and exclusive economic zones, and now concern safety and maritime access in other parts of the world, exploration and development of international seabed regions, North and South Pole governance, and more. As China transitions out of its developing-country status, it should more actively influence the global oceans governance system in a way that advances China’s national interests, Yang writes.

  • China should spearhead the creation of the World Oceans Organization (WOO). The WOO would serve as the world’s leading international organization governing oceanic and maritime issues. In 2015, China successfully led creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and it should follow this model to create the WOO.

  • The creation of the WOO would help resolve some of China’s challenges in the current international system. Existing international law is antiquated and creates too many ambiguities about rights and protections. For example, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea lacks clear definitions of “historic waters” and fails to provide clear guidance regarding governance of island and rock reef systems, he writes, contributing to countries’ territorial disputes. There are also many international organizations that govern aspects of oceanic governance, such as the International Maritime Organization, UNESCO, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and various regional bodies, but no single lead organization. WOO would fill this management vacuum.

  • The UK and the US are retreating from the international system and this presents China with an opportunity to show more global leadership, Yang notes. He adds that Chinese non-government organizations (NGOs) can help, too, by more aggressively providing the Chinese perspective on ocean governance issues in their interactions with other countries’ governments and global NGOs.

Note: Northwest University of Politics and Law publishes the Science of Law journal. Yang is a widely-cited author on issues related to energy, oceans, and maritime law.