Covering 70% of the Earth's surface, the ocean takes an important role for mankind's living and development and serves as a crucial stage for friendly exchanges and international cooperation between countries. In the second half of 2013, Chinese leaders proposed to rebuild an ASEAN-oriented “Maritime Silk Road” on several occasions during their visits in ASEAN countries. Building Maritime Silk Road needs a secure maritime environment as its supporting platform.
Confront Non-traditional Threats to Maritime Safety
Piracy is a non-traditional maritime security threat. Pirates have favored Southeast Asian waters for centuries, picking off traders who sailed through the Straits of Malacca to and from India and China. Until today, Indonesian waters and Malay Peninsula are still piracy’s hotpots. Around one-third of the world’s trade still moves through this waterway, so it is no surprise that piracy continues to thrive here.
Somalia is very famous in the world for its pirates, while Southeast Asian waters see an alarming number of pirate attacks as well. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) showed that the number of pirate attacks in Indonesian waters has increased by 50% in the first six months of 2013. Among 48 reported attacks, 43 involved pirates boarding vessels and assaulting the crew. Most of attacks occurred in Riau province, particularly around the ports in Dumai and Belawan.
Three ships have been attacked in Indonesian waters alone. Other attacks were recorded in the Straits of Malacca, Malaysian waters and the Philippines. This compares to just eight off Somalia in the same period.
China and some ASEAN countries have maintained energy trade relations for a long time. In September 2013, 270,000 tonnes of fuel oil were exported from Malaysia to China, making Malaysia become China’s second largest importer of fuel oil. And Singapore becomes the third largest importer with 260,000 tonnes of fuel oil to China. As fuel becomes one of the biggest expenses of shipping, pirates usually target at tank ships and steal valuable bunker oil.
Marine disaster is another kind of non-traditional maritime security threat which has more serious consequence. On December 26th, 2004, an earthquake and tsunami occurred in the Indian Ocean, causing great damage in the coastal communities. It was reported that almost 300,000 people died. The disaster affected countries around the Indian Ocean, including Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar and Malaysia. Situated near Honolulu, Hawaii of the United States, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) is the only multinational Tsunami warning system in the world. Its 26 members, including China and Thailand, are all around the Pacific Ocean. Due to the insufficient data at that time, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center just observed and made suggestion on the Indian Ocean waters. It was hard for the center to accurately predict earthquakes and tsunamis in this region. It was also possible that nobody would answer center’s early-warning phone. Even if the phone was answered, language could be somewhat of a barrier. Several minutes may pass before they could understand the word “Tsunami”. Actually, before 2004, earthquakes in Indian Ocean were also detected by the center. However, without unified emergency notification system and early-warning network, the center was unable to reach the countries in the Indian Ocean region in time.
Hence, for China-ASEAN maritime cooperation and development, it is essential to ensure the transport safety of tank ships and cargo vessels between China and ASEAN countries, pay more attention on the forecasting of maritime weather, improve people's self-rescue ability and continue perfecting the maritime disaster warning system.
Work Together to Improve Abilities to Deal with Disasters
Some other factors also threat the maritime security except the ones we mentioned before. Each incident sounded the alarm bell for us. We should summarize experience, get to know the cause and effect of the whole incident and figure out how to forecast and self-rescue. In recent years, China and ASEAN have been working together in the area of maritime security cooperation, obtained considerable progresses and deepened bilateral cooperation and mutual trust.
The China Maritime Search and Rescue Centre (CMSRC) established a relatively completed maritime search and rescue emergency system. It also has its own professional search and rescue force. The centre set up 9 maritime distress communication systems, including maritime satellite system, the dissemination system of maritime safety information, digital selective calling system and search and rescue satellite system etc. Every year, it has handled an average of 1,500 incidents and rescued more than 16,000 people at sea, a success rate of over 90%.
China and ASEAN have also established the disaster early-warning mechanism. Both sides worked together to cope with tropical storms like “Fitow”, “Utor” and “Haiyan”, effectively guaranteeing the security of people's lives and properties in this region. Besides, China and Thailand conducted the disaster monitoring, evaluation and prediction by taking advantage of China’s Beidou Satellite Navigation System.
China provided aid for ASEAN countries with equipment, technical support, professional training, earthquake prediction research, disaster evaluation and emergency response during the construction of the seismologic network in Asian region. Meanwhile, China offered ASEAN countries supports, such as course training and plans for coping with natural disasters, and helped improve the early-warning capabilities of earthquake information centers in ASEAN countries. China set up the maritime search and rescue cooperation mechanism with some ASEAN countries, such as Vietnam and Indonesia. They carried out the joint maritime search-and-rescue operations and exercises for several times. After Myanmar was hit by the cyclone Nargis in 2008, China has rendered Myanmar free aid for three times, including providing heavy equipment and industrial machines for reconstruction.
The "Peace Ark" hospital ship of the Navy of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLAN) participated in the Humanitarian Assistance, Disaster Relief & Military Medicine Joint Exercise under the mechanism of the ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus) held in Brunei from June 17 to 20, 2013. During its stay in Brunei, the "Peace Ark" hospital ship made free physical examination for local people. On September 30 of the same year, Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy destroyer “Qingdao” took part in a marine security exercise held during the enlarged meeting of ASEAN Defense Ministers at the Jervis Bay, Australia.
Facts proved that we must rely on international cooperation to achieve and maintain maritime security. China and ASEAN will continue to improve their maritime security cooperation, further explore search and rescue cooperation and exchange, well implement the cooperation projects such as joint sand-table exercises, handle maritime traditional security problems and non-traditional security threats with comprehensive solutions and promote maritime security cooperation step by step.
More anticipated progresses in China- ASEAN maritime security cooperation will be made in the future. The ship of China-ASEAN security cooperation is cleaving its way through China-ASEAN Maritime Silk Road and marching forward triumphantly.