BEIJING -- World Oceans Day that falls on Wednesday this year provides an opportunity for countries around the world to celebrate the importance of the ocean and to ponder how to interact with it in a sustainable manner.
With a coastline stretching around 32,000 km, China has had its past and future entwined with the ocean. In President Xi Jinping's words, building China into a strong maritime country is a "major strategic task for realizing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation."
Over the past decade, this maritime undertaking has remained high on the agenda of Xi, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission.
Back in 2013, Xi told the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee at a study session that a robust marine economy underpins the building of a strong maritime nation. He called for efforts to make better use of marine resources and develop the marine economy into a new growth driver.
Xi's vision is materializing as he steers the blue economy toward prosperity, with the size of the country's marine economy exceeding 9 trillion yuan (about $1.35 trillion) in 2021, a surge from 5 trillion yuan in 2012. It contributed 8 percent to the growth of GDP last year, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources.
New marine industries are speeding down the fast lane thanks to China's endeavors to ride the wave of technological innovation. Between 2016 and 2020, emerging industries including seawater desalination, marine energy and marine biopharmaceutics saw their growth in added value average more than 11 percent annually.
Expounding on the country's innovation drive, Xi has urged efforts to strive for high-level independence and self-reliance in marine science and technology and to make breakthroughs in original and leading technologies.
In a congratulatory letter to the 2019 China Marine Economy Expo, Xi called for efforts to accelerate marine sci-tech innovation, improve marine development capacity, and foster and strengthen emerging marine industries of strategic importance.
Following his instructions, governments and institutions at all levels have ratcheted up support for innovation in a bid to translate creativity into productivity.
In the coastal province of Guangdong, a pioneer of the marine economy, local authorities have earmarked a fund worth 300 million yuan for the technological innovation of sectors such as marine equipment manufacturing, marine wind power and marine electronics. East China's Shandong has also established a fund of this type to nurture projects industrializing high-end marine sciences and technologies.
The country's major research institutes of marine science and technology doubled their spending on research and development during the 2011-2020 period, with researchers increasing by over 10,000. The number of related patents granted in 2020 was four times that in 2011.
Thanks to its commitment to innovation, China now boasts a greater capability to tap its vast marine energy reserves. The increase in energy supply, in turn, is better powering the world's second-largest economy.
According to the Ministry of Natural Resources, last year's output of offshore oil and gas in China expanded by 6.2 percent and 6.9 percent year on year, respectively.
The country has also seen its energy production getting cleaner and greener. The country topped the world in 2021 in terms of the installed capacity of offshore wind power. The added value of the marine electricity generation sector surged by 30.5 percent from a year ago to 32.9 billion yuan.
CARING FOR THE OCEAN
Despite the thriving marine economy, China has never sought growth at the expense of the marine environment and ecosystems.
We should attach great importance to marine eco-environmental progress, strengthen the prevention and control of pollution, protect marine biodiversity, develop and utilize marine resources in an orderly manner, and leave turquoise seas and blue skies for our future generations, Xi once said.
Over the past decade, China has made strides in the conservation of marine ecology, prevention and treatment of marine pollution, and protection of marine biodiversity.
The latest data shows that the area of Level-I, or the highest, seawater in China's water quality system accounted for 97.7 percent of the country's total maritime territory in 2021.
Looking ahead, China is set to coordinate and promote maritime ecological protection and maritime economic development while safeguarding its maritime rights and interests, according to the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025), a key blueprint for the country's economic and social development.
To build China into a strong maritime nation, we must take good care of, further understand, and manage the ocean, and facilitate innovation in marine science and technology, Xi once said.