Symposium on Building Blue Economy Partnership stresses South China Sea

Updated: Nov 27, 2022

To build a blue economy partnership and realize the goal of sustainable marine development we need to take the governance of the marine ecological environment as the first step and joint construction of marine industrial and supply chains as a major task, says Chi Fulin, president of China Institute for Reform and Development, in a keynote speech on the 2022 Symposium on Building Blue Economy Partnership, which was held on Nov 27.

According to statistics from international organizations, marine resources in the South China Sea have dropped to 5 percent from the 30 percent of the 1950 level. The number of coral reefs in the South China Sea is declining at a rate of 16 percent per decade, and less than 5 percent of the area is effectively protected.

In the face of increasingly severe challenges to marine ecological governance, Chi suggests that consultations on a convention on marine ecological environment governance in the South China Sea be launched as soon as possible in accordance with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

An ASEAN-China committee on sustainable marine development should also be established to align their marine strategies; coordinate their maritime policies; and jointly monitor, guide and supervise the governance of the marine ecological environment in the South China Sea, he adds.

For the marine economic development of countries along the Belt and Road initiative, it is important to promote the establishment of free trade zones to boost the development of marine fishery, marine renewable energy, marine biological resources and marine emerging industries. "We should adopt various forms of cooperation, such as framework agreements and investment treaties, to promote the building of flexible and multiple forms of bilateral and multilateral free trade areas, which may help form communities of shared interests and communities of a shared future," Chi remarks.

Countries can work on technological innovation together to promote data, information and knowledge sharing, and build up regional and global ocean observation and prediction systems. Cooperation on non-traditional security issues such as maritime climate early warning, maritime search and rescue, and response to maritime terrorism and climate extremes, as well as in marine ecological protection and restoration, in building marine ecological waterways, and in jointly addressing transboundary marine pollution should be advanced, according to Chi.

In 2021, ASEAN's exports of fish and other seafood accounted for 18 percent of its total exports to China. However, processed seafood accounted for only 4.1 percent of its total seafood exports. Therefore, Chi proposes that the RCEP rules of origin need to be better utilized to support enterprises in the region to jointly set up cross-border fishery processing industrial parks in line with their own business needs and resource supply characteristics, and properly deploy industrial chains of fishing, processing, freshness-keeping and transportation, so as to enable the added value of fish and other seafood to exceed 40 percent and to still enjoy the "zero tariff" policy.

For the RCEP developed members, they are expected to make a commitment to provide capacity building and technical assistance to developing and least developed member countries, exploring ways to shorten the transition period of zero tariffs on raw materials and components of offshore wind power generating facilities within the region, and promoting the formation of an offshore wind power industrial chain that links up wind turbine research and development, equipment manufacturing, testing and certification, construction and installation, and operation and maintenance, according to Chi.

About 95 percent of China's internationally traded goods are transported by sea. "Strengthening overall coordination of internal and external oriented management is an important systemic basis and institutional guarantee for safeguarding our overseas rights and interests," Chi says.

Hainan Free Trade Port, for example, has favorable conditions to become a core area of China-ASEAN Blue Economy Partnership. It can play the role of a hub in China-ASEAN blue industrial and supply chains.

As for possible tourism developments for the province, Chi calls for Hainan exploring and launching an ASEAN-oriented island travel card program to facilitate visa-free travel among island economies. "We can take the lead in establishing Hainan Island to Bali Island and Hainan Island to Singapore cruise tourism cooperative community to share and mutual delivery of cruise tourism sources, to jointly market of cruise lines and to jointly manage of cruise tourism crisis in the South China Sea region," Chi says.

He also points out that it is essential to take advantage of the time window when the RCEP "zero tariff" on seafood takes effect, and make good use of Hainan FTP's zero tariff policy for "raw materials and accessories" to enlarge seafood imports. "We should set up ASEAN-oriented seafood purchasing, distribution, storage centers and processing centers, and gradually build ASEAN-oriented seafood processing, freshness-keeping, and transit and transaction bases," Chi says.

The key measure to leverage the unique role of Hainan FTP as a meeting point between China and ASEAN markets is to build a "headquarters base" for domestic enterprises to invest in ASEAN. It is necessary to speed up introduction of specific policies to support enterprises to set up headquarters in Hainan FTP, and attract domestic enterprises to invest in ASEAN's fishing and processing, oil and gas cooperative development, and joint research and development of renewable energy technology via Hainan FTP, so that enterprises can play a leading role in building China-ASEAN blue industrial supply chains, Chi says.

In the future, Hainan can become a marine sustainable development capacity enhancing center. If an ASEAN University was established in Hainan, students from ASEAN countries could compete for international scholarships to study in the province. It is also necessary to set up a capacity building center to help with sustainable marine development in Hainan for government officials and entrepreneurs involved marine affairs ASEAN countries, and to offer non-profit training programs on marine environmental protection, marine ecological restoration and sustainable development and utilization of resources, Chi proposes.

Taking place both online and offline, the symposium is organized by China Institute for Reform and Development and China Oceanic Development Foundation, with the support of three social sciences organizations.

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