Blue Future: Mapping Opportunities For U.S.-China Ocean Cooperation

2018-05-22T09:30:25+00:00 May 22, 2018|

(Credit: Getty/George Rose)

The United States and China share a deep common interest in ocean protection. The world’s ocean and coastal resources are currently under threat from overfishing, pollution, and unchecked resource extraction. Global ocean health is declining rapidly and has already reached crisis levels.

(From American Progress) — As the largest ocean stakeholders—with unparalleled dependence on seaborne trade, the economic vitality of coastal cities, and the production and consumption of living marine resources—the United States and China face new, increasing economic and security risks from the degradation of global ocean health.

Yet the ocean also represents a tremendous opportunity for the two countries to turn this trend around. The marine environment has a proven capacity to heal and rebuild itself under proper management, and as the two largest economies in the world, the United States and China have an ability as well as a responsibility to rally other countries on issues relating to the global commons. In the run-up to the 2015 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties in Paris, it was a bilateral agreement between the United States and China that paved the way for multilateral agreement on a landmark climate accord.1 The same could happen on ocean protection. If the United States and China can forge a common agenda for action, the rest of the world will follow.

To be sure, thus far in 2018, the U.S.-China relationship has trended in a direction that has made game-changing cooperation increasingly difficult to achieve—at least in the near term. On the U.S. side, the Trump administration is viewing its policy toward China through a narrow lens that focuses exclusively on trade and North Korea; all other issues struggle to find space on the leadership agenda. That approach prioritizes immediate U.S. concerns but also makes it difficult to pursue and expand bilateral cooperation on broader, longer-term issues, such as ocean protection, where the two nations share common interests and China has a growing capability to contribute to the global commons. While the U.S. and Chinese governments grapple with difficult issues, at a nongovernmental level, their experts have an opportunity to join forces in an effort to lay groundwork for future cooperation on broader issues such as ocean protection.

That is exactly what the “Blue Future” dialogue aimed to achieve. Despite the great need and potential for U.S.-China cooperation in this domain, ocean issues remain a relatively unexplored area in U.S.-China relations. Officials from the two countries added a dedicated track on ocean cooperation to the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in 2015 and 2016. Those preliminary discussions produced or continued a few high-level areas of agreement, including a marine protected area in Antarctica’s Ross Sea and efforts to combat unsustainable fishing, marine pollution, and marine litter.2 Thus far, however, U.S.-China government-to-government discussions have only managed to probe the surface of the two countries’ interests in ocean protection and sustainable development. More work is needed to map out exactly where U.S. and Chinese interests converge, where they diverge, and where the two countries should focus their efforts over the near-, medium-, and long-term…

Participants in the June 2016 dialogue
CAO Ling, Research Scholar, Stanford University

CHEN Jiliang, Researcher, Greenovation Hub

Michael Conathan, Director of Ocean Policy, Center for American Progress

GUO Peiqing, Professor and Executive Director, Ocean University of China

Melanie Hart, Senior Fellow and Director for China Policy, Center for American Progress

Michael Jones, President, The Maritime Alliance

Beth Kerttula, Former Director, U.S. National Ocean Council, Obama Administration

Judith Kildow, Director, National Ocean Economics Program, Center for the Blue Economy

LI Shuo, Senior Global Policy Advisor (Climate & Ocean), Greenpeace East Asia

LIU Shuguang, Deputy Director and Research Fellow, KRI Institute of Marine Development, Ocean University of China

Tabitha Mallory, Affiliate Professor, University of Washington

SUN Kai, Faculty, School of Law and Politics, Ocean University of China

SUN Song, Director, Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of Sciences

TANG Yi, Professor and Associate Dean of College of Marine Science, Institute of Marine Policy and Law, Shanghai Ocean University

Kathleen Walsh, Associate Professor of National Security Affairs, National Security Affairs Department, U.S. Naval War College

Rear Adm. Jonathan White, President and CEO, Consortium for Ocean Leadership

Sally Yozell, Senior Associate and Director, Environmental Security Program, Stimson Center

ZHANG Hongzhou, Research Fellow, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies

Dialogue support staff
Blaine Johnson, Policy Analyst for China and Asia Policy, Center for American Progress

Meredith Leal, Program Coordinator for National Security and International Policy, Center for American Progress

Shiva Polefka, Associate Director of Ocean Policy, Center for American Progress

Avery Siciliano, Research Associate for Ocean Policy, Center for American Progress

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