China, at present, faces three major challenges when it comes to maintaining its overseas rights and interests. First, China could encounter a severe challenge from the possible misunderstandings, obstructions and conflicts in the countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative given the different political systems, religions, cultures and laws and regulations, and/or lingering turbulence in those countries.
Second, China could face obstructions from the West, as reflected by the newly launched "Indo-Pacific" strategy by the United States, the hyping up of the "China threat" theory once again by some Western countries, and the restrictions on Chinese investment imposed by the European Union and some other Western economies. They pose potential risks to China in the process of its expanding overseas interests.
And third, China faces the challenge of building its capability and means to such an extent that it can maintain its overseas interests, which now extend across the world.
Looking into the future, China should have clearer goals and means to maintain its overseas interests, such as taking more concrete measures to implement its "consultation, co-building and sharing" proposals. It also should accelerate the process of developing into a strong maritime country, strengthen its planning and execution on maritime issues, and set up a more agile and responsive maritime interest coordinating mechanism.
At the same time, it should accelerate the building and application of its maritime soft power, and set up a new maritime security mechanism, at both the government and non-government levels and on bilateral as well as multilateral basis, to help reshape the maritime security order.
Nation can better respond to a crisis
Last year, the US conducted four "freedom of navigation" operations in the South China Sea, and its vessels frequently visited the military bases of some of China's neighbors. China can better respond to such US actions (as well as the US military's presence in the region) now that it has built essential strategic facilities on some islands and reefs in the South China Sea and further strengthened its military. These factors could greatly influence the situation in the South China Sea.
Japan and Australia, the two important allies of the US in the Asia-Pacific, have tried to interfere in the South China Sea issue, and their involvement will add a new variable to the situation. For instance, in mid-2017, Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force organized its first large-scale and months-long navigation in the South China Sea, and its vessels visited the ports of Vietnam and the Philippines. It also took part in the military drill held by the US and India in the Indian Ocean. These actions were aimed at extending Japan's "naval" reach beyond the South China Sea. Australia has taken similar actions, with its Asia-stationed frigates recently calling on the ports of Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia. This means Australia is also trying to extend its naval arm to the South China Sea.
As the US and its allies conduct increasingly frequent and diverse "freedom of navigation" operations in the South China Sea, China is expected to take more diverse and tougher response measures to protect its sovereign maritime claims. And since not much progress could be made in the past talks on a code of conduct in the South China Sea among the relevant parties, the sources of maritime disputes and frictions still exist. So far, no consensus has been reached on such issues as whether the code should be legally binding, whether it is a crisis settlement mechanism or a crisis control mechanism, or what kinds of maritime disputes such a consensus should be applied to.
Considering the code of conduct in the South China Sea under negotiation also involves who will benefit most from the making of the rules, China should take the initiative to maintain its presence in this arduous game, in which not only littoral but also some non-littoral states around the South China Sea hope to claim interest.
Building a social system based on yuan standard
The US' political and economic success after the end of World War II mainly lies in its powerful navy, the post-war global security system, a US dollar-centered global financial system, and a value system built on freedom, democracy and human rights.
But the US' excessive use of force and unilateral expansionism across the world in recent years have resulted in people gradually losing trust in the US-style of social and value system. The US is also facing major challenges that it cannot overcome alone－the conflict between Islam and Christianity, the severe challenge to the dollar standard, and the challenge to the US-proclaimed value system.
Is China's rise on the same lines as the US'? China, to be sure, has chosen the correct development road. At present, China's systematic design strives to strike the right balance between efficiency and fairness because they help raise productivity of the whole country.
And the fact that only China can efficiently mobilize the maximum resources to complete a big task is a reflection of the superiority of the socialist system. In addition, if China promotes an organic combination of universal value and traditional Chinese culture while trying to establish a common value system widely acceptable to the international community, its civilization and culture will forever remain strong.
China has put forward two goals－the building of a community of shared future for humankind and the Belt and Road Initiative. If the British Commonwealth system was built on the "gold standard", and the postwar US society is built on the "dollar standard", China should build a yuan-standard-based social system. Currently, China's national strength continues to rise and the yuan remains strong and popular across the world. So China should try to establish a yuan-standard-based social system and become a strong maritime country.
Active participant in the polar affairs
The rapid development of science and technology, and the expansion of human activities in space have already extended exploration, research and exploitation from land and coastal areas to the high seas and oceans, the polar regions, outer space and cyberspace. Outer space and cyberspace are called the new global territories, and the polar regions and high seas the new sea territories.
The new sea territories have become a new area where various countries are trying to expand their strategic resources and pursue superiority, turning them into a new power game arena of international relations. According to extant international laws, most of these new territories are assets of humankind, and thus countries can conduct competitive but not exclusive activities there. The question is: How to take account of the interests of all the stakeholders while safeguarding the common interests of humankind?
Some countries' maritime activities, such as marine research, tourism, transportation, fishing, exploration and development of deep-sea minerals and carbon sequestration, pose potential environmental risks. So the relevant international agencies and industrial associations should consider issuing permits for conducting such activities by, for example, formulating relevant conventions and accords. China, as an active participant in these activities, has already made major contributions to the existing conventions and accords.
In January, China published a white paper on its Arctic policy, saying the country is one of the important stakeholders in the Arctic. The goal of its policy is to protect and utilize the resources in the Arctic, participate in the region's governance, and safeguard the common interests of all states and the international community, as well as promote sustainable development in the region.
As far as Antarctica is concerned, China inked the Antarctic Treaty in 1983 and was unanimously acknowledged as a consultative party at the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in 1985. Antarctica is an area of frozen sovereignty, and of the 29 consultative states, only China, India, Ecuador and Poland have not formulated their Antarctic legislation. Once China formulates such legislation, it can better protect its interests in the Antarctic and take an important step toward boosting its status as an important consultative party to the Antarctic Treaty.