Science Diplomacy a Crucible for South China Sea Disputes


The increasingly loud accusations and declarations from Beijing and Washington over China’s ambitions to reclaim a string of small islands, coral reefs and lagoons show no signs of ending. However, given the number of international stakeholders in the region, the real promise of science for diplomacy may now be at hand in this complex geopolitical climate.

The arena for this convergence of two words- science and diplomacy- was displayed at a Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Washington symposium, where marine science, and the emergence of China’s ‘blue economy’ framed a new narrative in understanding the environmental stakes in the region’s escalating conflict.

Panelists Dr. John McManus, Rosentiel School of the University of Miami, and Professor Kathleen Walsh, U.S. Naval War College, demonstrated to policymakers how this contested region is not simply about sovereignty claims, but is likely to be recognized as one of the most significant environmental issues of the 21st century.

Policymakers may do well to take a lesson or two from nature as they examine how best to address the complex and myriad of sovereignty claims. Just as scientists place their subjects under close microscopic inspection, the policymaker, now more than ever, needs to visit science laboratories, where many contested nations’ researchers are sharing data about the future of South China Sea coral life.


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