Business / Maritime economy

Maritime power to protect ecology

By Wu Jiao, Han Lei and Zhang Yunbi (China Daily) Updated: 2012-11-14 02:22

China's newly proposed strategy to build a "maritime power" will not lead to marine hegemony, analysts said as the country is engaged in heated discussion of the leadership's call to develop the marine economy.

Meanwhile, the country's top marine official said that maritime strategy faces challenges such as protecting the ecology and ensuring rights.

President Hu Jintao, in his keynote speech to the Party congress last week, pledged that China would enhance its capacity for exploiting marine resources, develop the marine economy, protect the marine ecological environment, and "resolutely" safeguard China's maritime rights and interests.

The report, representing a broad policy consensus by the Party leadership and designed to guide the country's future development, also called for building China into a maritime power.

Liu Cigui, minister of the State Oceanic Administration, told China Daily that the maritime power pledge is strategically important as building maritime strength is necessary for China to grow into a strong country.

In building up maritime power, the biggest challenges lie in protecting the ecology while safeguarding rights, said Liu.

Liu made the remarks as several neighboring countries that have overlapping claims with China over some islands and water areas have moved unilaterally in drawing resources from the disputed areas, which has strained bilateral ties.

China advocated peaceful development and cooperation with neighboring countries on maritime issues, including ocean research and disaster relief, Liu said.

China will not provoke incidents in its neighboring area, nor does it fear other countries provoking incidents, said Liu.

"Our determination in safeguarding maritime rights is firm," Liu said.

According to Liu, the country's marine output will reach 10 percent of the country's GDP by 2015, which given the current growth rate, is estimated to reach 65 trillion yuan ($10.4 trillion) by then.

The marine economy totaled 4.55 trillion yuan last year.

Experts said the strategy gives the country's 3 million square kilometer marine area an unprecedented status, and closely connects the significance of the sea to the country's growth.

Given the country's dire need for resources to fuel its economy, the sea with its rich resources will play a big role in easing a shortage of resources, said Wang Fang, researcher with China Institute for Marine Affairs.

The marine area gives China more room for sustainable development, said Wang.

Wang also noted that the Chinese economy is becoming increasingly integrated with overseas countries, and water lanes play an important role in the material supply of foreign trade.

China must embrace the sea, and improve the development capacity of its maritime resources, said Wang.

According to Jiang Daming, governor of Shandong, the coastal province will try to build more marine-related industries and high-tech industries to ensure sustainable development. Jiang also said that Shandong will try to control marine pollution.

Li Guoqiang, deputy director of the Center for Chinese Borderland History and Geography at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said it is urgent for China to elaborate on a full set of overall maritime plans and improve legislation in maritime laws and regulations.

According to Li, maritime strategy has been a major setback for China in the past when its maritime rights and interests were relatively underestimated, and its safeguarding of maritime rights was lagging behind. "We should focus on building ocean-related capacities, including maritime development, law enforcement and national defense capacity," Li said.

Han Xiqiu, a Party congress delegate who is also a renowned expert in ocean expeditions, said China should actively pursue global cooperation in its ocean development as the sea is not isolated but connects the whole world.

"We should provide help to the developing countries, and learn more advanced theories and techniques from developed countries," Han said.

Han also proposed that China needs to build more ocean expedition vessels to improve its ocean development capacity.

While the pledge to build a maritime power has aroused concern from some overseas observers, experts said the pledge is mainly due to domestic development instead of seeking marine hegemony.

"Some foreign countries are still not used to China's identity as a maritime player, and they worry about the challenge China may pose to those traditional maritime powers," said Jin Canrong, deputy dean of the School of International Studies at Renmin University of China.

China's overlapping claims with Vietnam and the Philippines sparked an escalation in tensions in recent years over fishing and mineral resource prospecting.

"China's vow to build a maritime power does not necessarily mean that China is seeking maritime hegemony," said Zhang Tuosheng, a researcher at the China Foundation for International and Strategic Studies.

China is justified in using its lawful maritime interests, Zhang said, adding that there is great room for international cooperation in the field.

Zhang also noted that China has seen its maritime interests violated or overlapping with many countries, and some countries also accused China of violating "freedom of navigation", which is totally hypothetical.

The maritime fishery resource is another major problem China has to face, as excessive fishing and pollution has put fishery resources on the outskirts of China's coastline in danger, Zhang warned.

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