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Blue China

Event Report - Blue China - Can the EU and China save our Oceans?

13 April 2018

On 12 April, the EU-Asia Centre organised a panel discussion on EU-China cooperation on oceans management. In his introductory remarks, Fraser Cameron, Director of EU-Asia Centre, highlighted the thriving cooperation between EU and China in this field, as the topic is gaining momentum in Brussels as well as in Chinese policymaking circles.

Isabel Hilton, Director, China Dialogue, described the multifaceted crisis oceans are facing, relating to pollution, overexploitation and threats to biodiversity. Climate change was a reality as were acidification and coral bleaching. China’s role in this crisis pertains to its emissions, plastic pollution, overfishing and large-scale aquaculture. The pollution of rivers and over use of nitrogen fertilizers were additional problems. The rise of online retail and takeaway food also contributes to plastic pollution, although China had taken measures to tackle plastic waste. Overfishing is largely due to Chinese poorly regulated and subsidised long-distance fishing fleet. China catches about 38% of all fish. The fragmentation of the legal framework on fisheries and the poor inter-ministerial coordination prevents it from being fully effective. There were five priorities for China: cleaning up the coasts, making aquaculture sustainable, reducing plastic waste, curbing overfishing and managing rising demand of seafood. The EU and China could cooperate on improving law enforcement on fisheries and boosting the circular economy.

Andres Inotai, Cabinet, Commissioner Vella, argued that the sustainable use of oceans is a precondition for the conservation of fisheries and for unlocking the huge economic potential of oceans. In line with the EU’s Oceans strategy, citizens are becoming more aware of the risks the seas are facing. There was considerable cooperation with China on plastic pollution, marine litter and also during the 2017 EU-China Blue Year. Both sides are hoping to sign a MoU on the circular economy in the near future. The EU-China Ocean Partnership is very likely to be signed in the margins of EU-China Summit this year and will be focused on Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fisheries (IUU), marine research and blue economy. As regards the Arctic, there were positive signs following China’s Arctic policy paper about prospects for EU-China cooperation.

Shang Zhen, First Secretary, Mission of China to the EU, said that the EU and China faced many challenges and shared responsibility for action in tackling pollution of the seas as well as ensuring sustainable fishing. The recent steps taken by the EU and China, the EU Plastics Strategy and China’s ban on plastic waste imports, show the convergence of views. The Chinese ban will eventually reduce plastic consumption and force the EU to reduce its plastics dependency. The promotion of the “ecological civilisation”, stopping overuse of marine areas, banning ultra thin plastic bags and monitoring offshore micro-plastics were now top of the agenda since the 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China. It should not be just ‘the polluter who pays’ but also the beneficiary. China had changed the law so that there was no upper limit for punishing polluters. Civil society and businesses were being involved in efforts to reduce pollution. The prospects for EU-China Blue cooperation were immense.

Ann Dom, Deputy Director, Seas at Risk, said that cooperation with third countries was essential to ensure that the EU’s comprehensive governance framework on maritime issues is a success. Yet the implementation gap remains the biggest challenge, in the EU just like in China. Issues such as deep-sea mining will have to be tackled to realise the blue growth dream. The limitless economic growth paradigm was a root cause of the maritime crisis. The economy had to take more account of the SDGs. Involving civil society and stakeholders at all levels in the design and implementation of EU policy is the EU’s main strength, in particular on fisheries. The increased interest of EU policymakers in tackling marine litter is the result of the joint efforts of NGOs.

During the Q&A, questions were raised about the EU-China Blue Year in 2017 (which fostered increased stakeholder-to-stakeholder contacts, including between businesses; enhanced research cooperation; and laid emphasis on sustainable financing in blue growth); the network of maritime protected areas (possibility of China embracing the southern ocean protection); EU action on oceans in the Pacific (EU Marine Pacific Programme launched during the Malta Conference last year, mainly focused on involvement of local communities, marine protected areas); the involvement of civil society on environment (little involvement of civil society on oceans in China), the Chinese ban on plastics (commended by most panellists as having the potential to trigger a more constructive approach to plastics).