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Deepening the Dialogue on Ocean Affairs and Boosting the Development of the China-EU Relationship

2019-11-02 09:13:02       source:NISCSS

Speech by President Wu Shicun

at the Opening Ceremony of the China-EU Experts’ Meeting on Maritime Security

Haikou, October 30, 2019


Your Excellency Mr. Nicolas Chapuis,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning! First, I would like to extend a very warm welcome to every one of you, especially the friends from Europe, to Hainan Island and to the National Institute for South China Sea Studies (NISCSS).

This China-EU Experts’ Meeting on Maritime Security was jointly initiated and co-sponsored by the EU Delegation to China and the NISCSS. It is the first time for the NISCSS to host such a bilateral dialogue with its European counterparts since it was established in 1996. This dialogue is of great significance. And I want to express my special thanks to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China, the Office of Foreign Affairs of the CPC Central Committee and other relevant Chinese departments for their kind support.

China and the EU are the two strategic forces in the current world, and the two sides have established a comprehensive strategic partnership. The communication, coordination and cooperation between China and the EU is essential for maintaining the stability of the global order and promoting the sustained and healthy development of the world economy. The multi-level and multi-channel dialogue and exchanges between the two sides on global ocean governance and ocean-related affairs are also important links for them to enhance mutual understanding, promote common interests and develop bilateral relations.

China and the EU are separated afar by vast ocean. However, ocean has all along been a bridge for the two sides to conduct economic, cultural and people-to-people exchanges. Statistics show that the bilateral trade in goods between China and the EU exceeded US$682.2 billion in 2018, of which about 60% were seaborne.

Both China and the EU have their respective land and ocean. Both of them have the immediate and long-term needs for ocean development, and faces the same or similar challenges in ocean governance. At present, China is advancing its development towards a maritime power, and the EU has also formulated a marine strategy and published the Innovation in the Blue Economy Strategy. In 2010, the Chinese government and the European Commission signed the Memorandum of Understanding on establishing a High Level Dialogue on an Integrated Approach to Ocean Affairs. In 2018, the two sides signed the Blue Partnership for the Oceans: Towards Better Ocean Governance between China and the EU.

Both China and the EU are active actors in international ocean affairs. The two sides share many interlinked interests and claims as well as similar policies and propositions in promoting the establishment of a fair, open, and cooperative international order in the ocean that is conducive to sustainable development. In March this year, the European Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) stated in a joint report that climate change, marine pollution, loss of biodiversity, overfishing are the common challenges for coastal countries in ocean development and protection. These challenges cannot be addressed by any country alone. Both China and the EU have the responsibility to, by exchanges and cooperation, jointly explore a concerted plan to enhance global ocean governance.

Of course, due to the differences in historical background, cultural characteristics, development stage and geopolitical environment, China and EU are bound to be different in ocean governance. That said, I believe that there is no fundamental conflict of interests between the two sides in relevant field. China and EU will find ways to mitigate or effectively manage those differences through comprehensive, in-depth and continuous communication and dialogues, which is of great significance not only for the healthy development of China-EU relations, but also for the lasting world peace and prosperity.

China is a developing maritime power, yet it is also a geographically disadvantaged state. Due to issues left over from the history as well as the development of modern law of the sea, China has disputes over territorial sovereignty and maritime delimitation with its neighboring countries in the South China Sea, East China Sea and Yellow Sea, which could not be resolved in short term.

It is worth noting that some countries such as the United States have strengthened their military deployment and presence in the seas surrounding China, which has intertwined with China’s maritime disputes. As a result, China sees a deteriorating marine security environment day by day. Meanwhile, China and relevant littoral countries also face severe challenges in non-traditional security issues such as marine environmental pollution, navigation safety, natural disasters, and organized crimes at sea.

Taking this opportunity, I would like to briefly introduce the current situation in the South China Sea. Overall, the South China Sea has seen a stable and well-controlled security environment. However, there are negative factors that may cause tensions and turbulence, such as the provocative military activities by the US targeting at China, unilateral oil and gas exploration by certain claimant states, and the damaging impact of the South China Sea arbitration decision. If those factors could not be curbed or well managed, the South China Sea may see a worsening situation, and disturb the consultation and negotiation process of the South China Sea code of conduct.

China is committed to solving maritime disputes in its surrounding waters by peaceful means and through friendly consultation and negotiations. China also endeavors to manage, control and mitigate disputes by jointly making rules and enhancing pragmatic maritime cooperation with littoral and regional countries, as well as promoting joint development with other claimant states. China believes that only through concerted effort and collaboration among regional countries, challenges in ocean governance could be properly tackled, peace, tranquility and good order in relevant seas safeguarded, and coastal and international community’s interests truly protected. And thanks to the unremitting efforts of China and relevant countries, the overall stability in the above-mentioned sea areas have been maintained. The rule-making process in the South China Sea by has been steadily pushed forward through the consultation and negotiation process between China and ASEAN members states.

The EU and European countries have had many successful practices in regional marine governance, and have accumulated a wealth of experiences in relevant fields. Especially for the Mediterranean Sea, the Baltic Sea, the North Sea and the Black Sea, European countries have established effective cooperation mechanisms, from which China and East Asian countries could draw useful lessons. East Asian countries have also achieved continuous progresses in maritime cooperation under various bilateral and multilateral framework and mechanisms, which could serve has valuable reference for the EU and European countries.

Hainan is an important coastal province in southern China and the sole tropical island province of China. It plays a strategically pivot role in the development of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. It is now endeavoring to build itself to be a Pilot Free Trade Zone and Free Trade Ports with Chinese characteristics, which is also a national strategy of China. In this process, Hainan will not only open up to the EU and European countries, but also learn and make use of the successful experiences of many European countries in building, operating and managing free trade ports. Actually, I led a research team myself to the Netherlands and Malta for a field trip, and my colleagues and I benefited a lot from such an experience.

Up to the present, China and the EU have established several official dialogue mechanisms on ocean affairs. Considering the strategic significance of the two sides in global affairs, the development of bilateral relation and the pragmatic needs that I have just mentioned, China and the EU should continue to expand and deepen their communication and exchanges on ocean affairs, especially the exchanges between the think tanks and scholars. At present, the track II communication channels between China and the EU are insufficient and not yet institutionalized, which are incompatible with the needs of both sides and the development level of bilateral relations.

The NISCSS is a Chinese think tank specialized in the research in various fields related to ocean affairs. It has been actively engaged in exchanges and cooperation with many think tanks in the world. One of the highlights of our work in this regard is that we have established institutionalized track II dialogue with relevant think tanks and academic institute of the United States, Canada, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. We also initiated the establishment of the China-Southeast Asia Research Center on the South China Sea (CSARC), in collaboration with the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) of Indonesia and other five influential think tanks and research institutes of Southeast Asian countries. By pooling the collective wisdom and influence of those think tanks and research institutes, the CSARC is dedicated to promoting pragmatic cooperation in the South China Sea.

We look forward to establishing an institutionalized dialogue and cooperation mechanism with our EU counterparts, so that we could have more comprehensive track II dialogue and exchange mechanisms on ocean affairs. Such a dialogue mechanism will not only play a unique role in enhancing China-EU communication on ocean affairs, but also enable experts and scholars of both sides to make due contributions to the all-round development of China-EU relations. The fact that the EU Delegation to China proposed to co-organize this dialogue with a Chinese academic institute has shown the EU’s positive will in this regard. Therefore, I hope that this dialogue will mark a new starting point of China-EU track II exchanges mechanism in history.

Finally, I wish this dialogue a full success and every guest a pleasant stay in Hainan.

Thank you!