Before the world could realize it, China has expanded its influence over the two most critical oceans globally, the Indian and the Pacific. As researcher and essayist John Mac Ghlionn stated in a column for Chinese media Da Ji Yuan, China has “stole[n] two of the world’s most important oceans.”
Like it or not, over the past decades, countries in these two regions have been seeing the Chinese presence rapidly increase, either via naval activities, territorial disputes, or Belt and Road Initiative.
Having power over the regions is highly advantageous. The oceans possess enticing mining potential, and Ghlionn noted that China has now mined the waters extensively.
“The Indian Ocean, according to Sri Lankan-based researchers, “holds 16.8% of the world’s proven oil reserves and 27.9% of proven natural gas reserves.” The Pacific Ocean also has significant oil and gas potential.”
Ocean expert Baban Ingole told Ghlionn that critical minerals like cobalt, nickel, and copper are abundantly present in both oceans. These resources are the main components of batteries used in electric vehicles.
The resources would also grant China a massive advantage in championing the electric vehicles sector. It is booming visibly as the global grapples with environmental issues. It has been estimated that at least 145 million electric vehicles will be on the road worldwide by 2030.
Deep-sea mining may not disturb communities. Bramley J. Murton, head of marine geosciences with the National Oceanography Center, the UK, said it does not involve the addition of infrastructure such as roads, production plants, tailings ponds, etc.
But Ingole warned that relentless exploitation would cause irreversible and long-lasting negative impacts on the deep-sea ecology and biodiversity. Unfortunately, Ghlionn reminded that China has made its name for disregarding environmental protection.
The country is known for elevating its economy by sacrificing the environment. In a research article titled The Impact of Environmental Pollution and Economic Growth on Public Health: Evidence From China, it was found that the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) rose by 2.6 times between 2007 and 2015. The overall volume of industrial waste gas emissions also grew in the same period by 1.8 times.
In this regard, China’s deep-sea mining in the Indian and Pacific oceans is also a geopolitical complication.
Murton said, “For some states, control of the supply of critical metals is a major factor in their strategic calculations—if they lose control over the supply, they lose geopolitical influence.”
Resources and the environment are not the only worries when China grabs hold of the waters.
According to the Indian Express, the Pacific Ocean is the biggest and deepest ocean in the world. This ocean makes up about one-third of the planet’s surface. At the same time, 28 nations are inside the Indian Ocean’s watershed, and together they make up more than one-third of the world’s population.
Meanwhile, the Indo-Pacific is a multipolar region, which occupies more than 60% of the world’s GDP. The paper noted that this region is home to several of the world’s most significant choke points for global commerce, like the Straits of Malacca, which are essential for global economic growth.