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China, the Pacific and the Blue Economy

Article originally published by China Radio International

Look at any map of the world.  The Pacific Ocean is important.  It is not only because it covers about one third of the planet.  The Pacific Ocean determines the world’s weather patterns; it’s the great connector for our region’s trade and the source of our seafood. It is also dotted with islands and home to a diversity of cultures and communities that rely for their future on the health of the ocean and its resources.  So we need to take care of the Pacific and ensure economic development protects its environment and strengthens its communities.  In the Pacific, we need a “Blue Economy”

China needs a healthy Pacific Ocean as much as any other country in the region and, as an emerging leading economy, China can play an important role in developing a Blue Economy approach.  Indeed, as part of its Belt and Road Initiative to support infrastructure and connectivity for trade and investment, the Chinese Government unveiled a “Blue Economic Passage” in 2017, to connect Asia with Oceania.

The Blue Economy means ensuring that the infrastructure and other cooperation projects under development to strengthen links between Asia and the Pacific build sustainable transport connections, sustainable tourism industries and maintain sustainable fisheries, in balance with protection of the marine environment. The sustainability challenge is particularly important when we consider future energy solutions and future industries such as deep-sea mining.

For the Pacific region and its island countries and peoples, the ocean is fundamentally important. The ocean is central to identity, culture, resources, environment and livelihoods for island communities.

In September the leaders of the Pacific Islands met in Samoa and committed to a “Blue Pacific”, to harness the ocean as a driver of transformative development of the Pacific’s capabilities to protect its unique environment and cultures while providing opportunities for sustainable development of the region in cooperation with the world.

The Blue Pacific represents the collective potential of our shared stewardship of the Pacific Ocean to create a better future for the people of the Pacific, where there remain significant challenges of geographic remoteness and under-development.  The Blue Pacific represents a commitment to communities planning and owning their own development and regional actions for the good of all, rather than a few.  The Blue Pacific is therefore a step towards deeper regional cooperation and better integration of environmental and cultural goals with the economic development agenda.

There is much potential for cooperation between China, which has become a major growth engine of the world economy, and the small island nations of the Pacific.  Oceania is rich in resources, from minerals and energy to timber and fish.  Its cultural and environmental assets are unique and offer great potential for appropriately scaled and ecologically and culturally sensitive tourism industry development. The Pacific is the super-connector for sea-trade between Asia and not only South East Asia and Australasia, but also across to the Americas. As cross-Pacific economic links grow, the Pacific Islands may become more important staging posts, such as stopover destinations for flights between China and South America or service providers to fisheries and shipping industries.

Asia has benefited from the trends underlying globalization, such as flows of foreign direct investment, access to knowledge and innovation, open markets for trade in goods and services and rapid technological progress.  Asian economic growth has also been built upon the foundation of prevailing regional peace, security and stability offered by regional and multilateral cooperation.

The twenty first century may offer a new era for linking Asia, in particular China, to the Pacific Islands, just as has already taken place with great economic benefits for Australia and New Zealand, the developed economies of the region.  So Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the other small island states of the Pacific look to benefit also from trade and investment. Just like the larger economies of the Asia Pacific, they need regional cooperation and an environment of peace and security.  Maritime security, in particular, includes the need to clamp down more on illegal fishing activities that threaten the ocean’s resources for future generations.

Blue economy business opportunities include value adding to the fisheries, agricultural development, renewable energy and communications and transport connectivity. Asian investors are welcome who can bring new capital and technology, to boost local employment, strengthen infrastructure and contribute to industry development.

Just as tourists are welcome, who can leave a light footprint, investors are welcome, who can bring new capital and technology, boost local employment and contribute to industry development that respects the environment.  The Pacific is home to some of the world’s most pure and pristine environments, the beauty of which has inspired generations and which we must preserve for the enjoyment of future generations.  It is the natural environment that produces the high quality seafood and agricultural products that we all need for our future food security.

Pacific people are leading the push for the world to reduce its carbon pollution.  Fiji recently chaired the United Nations Climate Change Conference and Pacific leaders have been amongst the most passionate advocates to reduce global warming.  Some of the lowest lying islands are already endangered by rising sea levels and many have suffered from increasing natural disasters associated with climate change.

The Oceania region’s vision of a “Blue Pacific” can match China’s vision of a “Blue Economic Passage.”  But there remains a great distance, culturally as well as geographically, and so it is important for more people to people exchange so that we can get to know one another, at the same time as we build new transport and connectivity infrastructure.  From deeper understanding and closer business to business interaction, we can find areas of economic cooperation that will truly be win-win, benefiting both China and the developing countries of Oceania.

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