China’s Academic Battle for the South China Sea


China’s increased military and maritime surveillance activities in the South China Sea have been well-documented, both by foreign and Chinese media outlets. But China’s push to assert its claims over islands within the South China Sea is not simply unfolding in the military realm — the increased naval activities are backed by a renewed focus within the academic community.

A recent article in China Daily highlighted one such organization, the Collaborative Innovation Center for South China Sea Studies (CICSCSS), based at Nanjing University. The Center was established in 2012 as one of 14 national research projects prioritized by the central government. According to Hong Yinxing, the chairman of the board for the center as well as the Party chief for Nanjing University, the center was designed to promote comprehensive study of maritime issues in the region, crossing barriers between  academic departments, the military, and other government agencies. “The center will become a high-end think tank for South China Sea policymaking, a dialogue platform for international communication, and a training center for outstanding talents on maritime affairs,” Hong told China Daily.

Nanjing University is not alone in promoting study on South China Sea issues. The National Institute for South China Sea Studies (NISCSS), located in Hainan province, is affiliated with China’s Foreign Ministry and State Oceanic Administration. Founded in 1996, the institute has been upgraded and expanded in the past decade to reflect China’s growing will and ability to promote its claims in the South China Sea. NISCSS’s areas of interest include the history and geography of the South China Sea (with a special focus on sovereignty), the area’s geopolitics (including neighboring countries’ South China Sea policies), and the applicability of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to the region’s territorial disputes.  The NISCSS recently recommended that Taiwan and China work together on research projects to bolster their sovereignty claims in the South China Sea.

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