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Sea change


The blue economy can be a pillar of ASEAN-China cooperation

The world economy is on the brink of recession, characterized by high inflation, unemployment, weak growth and the uneven post-COVID-19 pandemic recovery compounded by looming energy and food security crises.

The international community is searching for innovative solutions to global issues while exploring new sources of growth. International cooperation and partnership are the keys to addressing global issues. However, geopolitical rivalries and great power politics are hindering international cooperation.

In the Asia-Pacific region, US-China competition does not show any signs of abating. Southeast Asian countries are under increasing pressure to side with the United States, although no country in Southeast Asia is interested in taking sides. On the contrary, they wish to stay neutral and independent and have good relations with both China and the US.

Any attempt to form an alliance against China is doomed to fail, because the economies of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China are so interdependent. Last year, although the region was still struggling against the COVID-19 pandemic, the bilateral trade volume reached $878.2 billion, and China's total investment in ASEAN countries was about $14.35 billion.

The ASEAN-China relationship has entered a new era after a comprehensive strategic partnership was formed last year. The blue economy can be another linchpin connecting ASEAN and China and a critical source of new regional economic dynamism.

The development of the blue economy can be a new source of growth that can create jobs, mitigate the impacts of climate change, and help meet the food needs of a growing global population.

According to the World Bank, a blue economy refers to the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs while preserving the health of the ocean ecosystem.

China has been steadfast in promoting regional cooperation on the blue economy. In 2013, during his visit to Southeast Asia, Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed his commitment to developing a maritime partnership with ASEAN in their joint efforts to build the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. China is strengthening its maritime cooperation with ASEAN countries and making "good use of the China-ASEAN Maritime Cooperation Fund set up by the Chinese government" to build the new "maritime silk road".

Five years later, China and ASEAN adopted the China-ASEAN Strategic Partnership Vision 2030 to strengthen their partnership on the blue economy further and promote marine ecosystem conservation and the sustainable use of the ocean, seas and marine resources, including cooperation in marine science and technology, ocean observation and hazard mitigation, as well as ocean economy development.

According to the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, a document released at the 34th ASEAN Summit in June 2019, inclusiveness, mutual benefit, and respect for international law are the key principles of the maritime economic cooperation between the two sides.

At the special ASEAN-China Summit in 2021 to mark the 30th anniversary of the dialogue partnership, both sides highlighted boosting their partnership on the blue economy and promoting marine ecosystem conservation and sustainable use of the ocean, seas and marine resources.

To do so, the two sides need to develop a common definition of the blue economy and develop a concrete, practical action plan to realize a shared vision of the blue economy.

Some of the potential areas for practical cooperation are marine aquaculture, marine fishery processing, marine transportation, marine new energy, marine biopharmaceuticals and marine environmental protection.

Meanwhile, the existing bilateral mechanisms and agreements such as the China-ASEAN Maritime Consultation Mechanism, the Joint Statement on China-ASEAN Port Development and Cooperation, China-ASEAN Agreement on Maritime Transport, and the ASEAN-China Maritime Education and Training Development Strategy need to be effectively implemented.

China's recently established Hainan Free Trade Port can play an important role in advancing the ASEAN-China partnership on the blue economy, by promoting joint research and development on the blue economy, the development of an international carbon emissions trading venue, and coastal and maritime tourism.

A blue economy cannot be realized without maintaining regional peace and stability and an open, inclusive, balanced, resilient and rules-based multilateral system. Strategic trust is essential.

Both sides have built momentum on frank and open dialogues based on mutual respect and win-win cooperation to build, maintain and nurture strategic trust.

China's support of implementing the cooperation areas under the framework of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific also contributes to mutual trust and confidence building.

Moreover, building synergies between the Belt and Road Initiative with ASEAN initiatives such as the ASEAN Master Plan on Connectivity 2025 can further promote greater economic interdependence between China and ASEAN, which in turn will contribute to regional peace and stability.

The author is president of the Asian Vision Institute, an independent think tank based in Phnom Penh. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

Contact the editor at editor@chinawatch.cn