The issue of the South China Sea has become more and more complicated. Recently, many signs have indicated that it is impossible to resolve the issues in a short time frame. How do we balance the safeguarding China’s sovereignty on the one hand and maintaining regional stability on the other? I think that China can follow the historic example of Tuntian Shubian (sending soldiers or peasants to develop land at China’s borders), to establish a production and construction corps in the South China Sea.
As the urbanization of China speeds up, its demand for resources is increasing. Many of its limited land-based mines face depletion. China’s reliance on the ocean is also reaching a critical level. China should pay extensive attention to the management of its sea territory, just as it previously did to its land borders.
I therefore suggest that (China) try to establish a production and construction corps in the South China Sea. The nature and format of this corps can follow the model of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps. Based on the characteristics of marine geographic resources, (China) should determine the appropriate administrative scale of the production and construction corps, then create functional groupings, including an oil and gas exploration group, a fishery production group, an infrastructure construction group, and more as indicated. All groups should have production ships, armed escort ships, and supply ships. They should cooperate with each other, share the infrastructure, and fight together against the enemy. Considering the complexity of the current situation, (China) should consider re-creating the famous South China Sea militia by transferring certain non-essential battle ships and military units from the Navy to the civilian side and combining them with other business units to create the South China Sea Production and Construction Corps.
Besides international politics, the key to the success of the South China Sea Production and Construction Corps will be the development of an infrastructure in the South China Sea. Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam have all built airports on China’s islands that they illegally occupied. We can consider directly taking back one or a few of them, or we can set up large-scale comprehensive supply base(s) in the area where we already have control. Such supply base(s) should have an airport, a sea port, storage and transportation facilities, and living areas. With such base(s), the South China Sea Production and Construction Corps can have a long-term foothold, our ocean convoy can take a rest, and foreign ships can obtain supplies.
I think that China’s long absence from the South China Sea is a major reason why some countries seized China’s islands. China’s establishing a production and construction corps in the South China Sea will both fix its historic mistakes and present a responsible approach to maintaining regional and world peace by starting oceanic economic development and halting and then gradually changing the situation in which different countries are messing up the South China Sea. A peaceful South China Sea is not only in China’s interests, but also in the interests of the U.S. and other neighboring countries in the South China Sea. China’s creation of the production and construction corps may, at first, create some international turmoil, but the world will get used to it in a short time – just as (it did with) the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps.
Most importantly, China has all the conditions to establish the South China Sea Production and Construction Corps.
First, Hainan Province can provide the administrative and geographical support for the South China Sea Production and Construction Corps. In March 1988, China used force to drive Vietnam out when it occupied China’s Nansha Islands. A month later, Hainan Province was formally established. After its creation, Hainan focused on developing its main island (Hainan Island). The South China Sea belongs to Hainan Province. Hainan Province should not just look at the land and seashore of Hainan Island. Hainan should be the point of support for China to safeguard its sovereignty in the South China Sea.
Second, there is great potential power in the fishing vessels and fishermen in Hainan. According to statistics, there are 26,500 marine production fishing vessels, 250,000 people in marine fisheries production, and nearly one million people working in marine fishery production related areas. Developing the South China Sea’s resources will not only provide numerous employment opportunities, but also be a great help to Hainan’s economic development.
In addition, China has several dozen years of experience in real estate, road, bridge, and tunnel development. It has a construction team superior to any in the world. Also, China’s economic, military, and other comprehensive powers are strong enough to support a South China Sea Production and Construction Corps.
All Chinese will also support this initiative. The South China Sea is a crucial national asset over which China has suffered great losses. It is also one of the most important strategic locations for China in the future. Establishing the South China Sea Production and Construction Corps is a great endeavor that presents immediate gains and will also result in benefits for thousands of years. I hope different interest groups will unify their thoughts and, in the spirit of peace and cooperation, establish the production and construction corps and dispatch it to the South China Sea as soon as possible.
 Huanqiu Online, “Dai Xu: (China) Should Establish South China Sea Construction Corps Quickly,” May 23, 2012.