China’s Sets Its Eyes On World’s Last Frontier: The Ocean

Via Nikkei Asia, a report on Beijing’s strategic efforts to reap the economic potential of the world’s oceans.  A reminder that farms need not only be on the ground, but they may be within marine environments as well.

Dealing with the Ukraine war and its evolving consequences, growing tensions in the Pacific, the still-unfolding disruption caused by the pandemic and the looming climate change disaster all necessitates fresh thinking.

One place few seem to have looked is the potential of oceans and the ocean floor. Home to 97% of the world’s water and around 80% of animal and plant life, the oceans, especially at their depths, are earth’s last remaining frontier.

According to the United Nations, the immediate potential of trade in maritime-related goods and services stands at $2.5 trillion, but the total value of the global maritime economy could end up far greater.

Nothing signals this potential more than the fact that China’s reformist economic leader province of Guangdong has set its eyes firmly on this so-called “blue economy.”

The “Fourteenth Five-Year Plan for Guangdong Marine Economic Development,” issued by Guangdong authorities on Dec. 15 last year, is insightful. From the outset, it makes clear that it sees the oceans as a “strategic location” for “high-quality development.” High-quality development — the shift of China’s economy to a quality-driven growth model — is the key overriding theme for Beijing’s current five-year plan, which sets targets for 2021 to 2025, too.

Guangdong’s new maritime plan calls for advances in the local marine industrial system, maritime scientific and technical innovation capabilities, marine governance mechanisms and capabilities, and a broader role for the province in the global maritime economy.

Tangible maritime goals within the plan include realizing an average annual growth rate for marine-related products of 6.5%, 10% R&D-related expenditure growth and marine industry clusters with turnover of more 100 billion yuan ($15.6 billion yuan).

With trade via Guangdong ports expected to accelerate, the entire province should become a hub of global ocean cooperation, especially with countries along China’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative.

Targeted areas include maritime-related industry, science and tech, ecology and coastal environmental maintenance. As a result of those objectives, China should also realize several key maritime innovation breakthroughs.

Within Guangdong, the city of Shenzhen, a hub that is already synonymous with successful manufacturing, is being targeted as a “global ocean city” in terms of related industry, governance and services.

Governance refers to maritime law and regulation, alongside early warning and monitoring, emergency assistance and disaster prevention mechanisms and capabilities. The latter includes finance, including ideas for a new multilateral maritime development bank, as well as tourism services and plans for a deep-sea creature research institute.

Guangdong’s ocean economy acceleration plan may be gaining knots under the current not five-year plan, but it did not come out of the blue.

When President Xi Jinping launched the “Maritime Silk Road” in Indonesia in October 2013, his speech was rich in oceanic references dating back to the Ming Dynasty fleets of Chinese mariner Zheng He. Noting the need for China and Southeast Asian countries to advance their maritime governance cooperation. These ideas are now embedded into Guangdong’s high-quality growth agenda, with explicit links to the Belt and Road Initiative.

Proximate to Guangdong, the special administrative region of Macao is home to the permanent secretariat of the Forum for Economic and Trade Cooperation between China and Portuguese-speaking countries, China’s hub for fostering ties with the 10 island and coastal countries that speak Portuguese. When Xi visited Portugal in December 2018, not only did he sign China’s first European Belt and Road agreement, he also called for a “blue partnership” that recognized Portugal’s historical role in oceanic navigation.

Last year, the two countries launched STARlab, a joint China-Portugal lab in Shanghai, integrating scientific and technological cooperation in space and sea. Other recent partnerships formed include China’s Harbin Engineering University and Portugal’s Lisbon University, setting up an International Joint Laboratory of Naval Architecture and Offshore Technology.

Shanghai Ocean University and the University of Algarve recently established a Sino-Portuguese Joint International Research Laboratory of Marine Biology, and the Second Institute of Oceanography of China’s Ministry of National Resources has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Portuguese Earth Science Research Cooperative Alliance Association and the Portuguese Centre of Marine and Environmental Research on marine research and environmental collaboration.

The concept of the blue economy first appeared in Canada in 1999 and was advanced by Belgian economist Gunter Pauli in a 2010 book “The Blue Economy: 10 Years, 100 innovations, 100 million jobs.”

Under the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development of 2012, “blue growth” became an international goal and recognized engine of social and economic development. A decade later, China is at least among those taking the lead on blue growth and blue governance, especially in Guangdong Province.

With so many eyes focused elsewhere, Guangdong appears to be taking the lead when it comes to exploring the maritime sphere. The first overseas trip for China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi this year featured five countries — all important or potentially important oceanic nodes: Eritrea, Kenya, Comoros, the Maldives and Sri Lanka.

Amid global tensions and concerns over scarcity, the balance between the race to exploit, secure and innovate is picking up. Recent events in Europe have shown that tense talk between nations can rapidly descend into devastatingly violent conflict.

Avoiding the next tragedy of the commons in the maritime sphere, and building a sustainably prosperous global maritime economy instead, must start with understanding that potential, both positive and negative.

Taking the time to digest the direction of sail mapped out by China in December’s “Fourteenth Five-Year Plan for Guangdong Marine Economic Development” should be required reading for those involved in any onward maritime economy discussions.

This entry was posted on Friday, April 29th, 2022 at 12:55 pm and is filed under Uncategorized.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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About This Blog And Its Author
Seeds Of A Revolution is committed to defining the disruptive geopolitics of the global Farms Race.  Due to the convergence of a growing world population, increased water scarcity, and a decrease in arable land & nutrient-rich soil, a spike of international investment interest in agricultural is inevitable and apt to bring a heretofore domestic industry into a truly global realm.  Whether this transition involves global land leases or acquisitions, the fundamental need for food & the protectionist feelings this need can give rise to is highly likely to cause such transactions to move quickly into the geopolitical realm.  It is this disruptive change, and the potential for a global farms race, that Seeds Of A Revolution tracks, analyzes, and forecasts.

Educated at Yale University (Bachelor of Arts - History) and Harvard (Master in Public Policy - International Development), Monty Simus has long held a keen interest in natural resource policy and the geopolitical implications of anticipated stresses in the areas of freshwater scarcity, biodiversity reserves & parks, and farm land.  Monty has lived, worked, and traveled in more than forty countries spanning Africa, China, western Europe, the Middle East, South America, and Southeast & Central Asia, and his personal interests comprise economic development, policy, investment, technology, natural resources, and the environment, with a particular focus on globalization’s impact upon these subject areas.  Monty writes about freshwater scarcity issues at and frontier investment markets at