Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 3-2013


A nation’s economy has been described as a mechanical engine comprised of interconnected, moving parts [1]. In China, the ocean economy is now seen as a critical component of that engine. Following the reform of economic trade policy, especially in the period 2001-2010, China’s ocean economy has been growing rapidly, in line with national GDP. Also, as the second largest economy in the world, China is paying more and more attention to the sustainable development of its ocean economy. One important reason for this is that since joining the World Trade Organization (WTO), Chinese trade with other nations has steadily expanded as a proportion of national economic activity, to the point where it affects approximately 70% of China’s economy [2]. China also has access to a significant marine resource base with a coastline of more than 32,000 km [3] and more than 7,300 islands [4] in its territorial waters. Coupled with this, China has sovereign jurisdiction over a vast area of continental shelves and exclusive economic zones (EEZs) (as defined by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea) equal to approximately 3 million km2 of offshore waters and 32,000 kilometers of coastline. China also has marine oil reserves of an estimated 24 billion tons and natural gas reserves of over 1.6 billion cubic meters [5]. Seaborne commerce is one of the most essential elements of international trade in China. According to Cheng [6], “without trade, China could not sustain its economy, let alone maintain the growth rates necessary to maintain high employment figures”. Ocean commerce in 2008 alone represented approximately 10% of China’s gross domestic product (GDP), with a value of approximately $456 billion. Moreover, some 85% of its international trade moves by the sea lanes [2]. China’s increasing reliance on oil imports to sustain its rapid economic expansion is a key element of this marine commerce. China imported over half of the oil it consumed in 2009, the majority of which was transported by tankers [7]. Since the land resources in China, as well as other countries around the world, are increasingly on the verge of economic and ecological exhaustion, the value of the oceans as a resource for economic development has become increasingly more prominent. A number of coastal countries have launched programs explicitly aimed at strategic initiatives for the development of their ocean resources. China has been no exception in this regard. In 1996 the Chinese government unveiled the China Ocean Agenda 21 which put forward a sustainable development strategy for China's marine resources. The main aims of this strategy were to effectively safeguard the state's marine rights and interests internationally, provide protection for delicate marine ecosystems and realize the sustainable development of China’s ocean economy. With the aim of furnishing marine policy makers in China with marine activity related statistics, the Ocean Economy Accounting System (OEAS)of China was established in 2006. The purpose of the system was to develop the required range and quality of ocean economy data at regional and national level. This paper provides a critique of this system and also uses it to define and quantify the ocean economy in China. While Song et al. [8] have previously examined the developments in the Chinese marine economic statistical system over the past 20 years we add to the literature by examining how the industries within the Chinese marine economy has changed in both value and in terms of the numbers employed over the period 2001 to 2010. We also compare the Chinese OEAS to the marine economic accounting system used in the US and examine how closely the Chinese ocean economy follows the general movement in Chinese GDP. In what follows, this paper first reviews Chinese marine policy that resulted in the increased need for reliable and standardized ocean economy statistics. The development of the OEAS is then described along with the accounts that the system is comprised of. The definition and value of the ocean industries in China and their relevant importance to the overall Chinese economy are then compared to the definition for ocean economy industries in the US and Europe.


The Center for the Blue Economy hosts visiting scholars for research residencies. This paper is from the 2012-2013 Visiting Scholars Dr. Stephen Hynes, Director of SEMRU (Socio-Economic Marine Research Unit) part of the Whitaker Institute at the National University of Ireland, Galway, his is also an Editorial Board Member for the CBE's Journal of Ocean and Coastal Economics, and Rui Zhao, Associate Research Fellow, National Marine Data and Information Service, State Oceanic Administration, China.