Closing Remarks at the Strategic Track Oceans Meeting of the Strategic & Economic Dialogue / Consultation on People-to-People Exchange

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi
Washington, DC
June 24, 2015

SECRETARY KERRY:  Well, good morning, everybody, and thank you very, very much for being here this morning for this very important discussion.  And I want to particularly thank Under Secretary Cathy Novelli and the Chinese State Oceanic Administrator Wang Hong for chairing this very special session of the S&ED.  This is the first time that we’ve really tackled this topic in the S&ED, and I have to say that once again we’re breaking new ground with respect to China and the United States’s ability to find an area where we can cooperate, which has major significance for not just our two nations, but for people everywhere.

Ocean policy is a reflection of a very important set of priorities that we are trying to set together as we reach for new levels of cooperation, all of which define this great power relationship.  It’s particularly important that we are doing this now with respect to the oceans because we haven’t agreed on every aspect of maritime policy, but it indicates that we’re working hard to address differences and to find the areas of commonality. 

On the marine environment, there is an urgent need for our countries to step up and help lead.  Last year, we put together the first oceans conference here in the State Department, and that will be followed on this year by a conference in Chile, and then next year we will follow on with another conference here in the final year of the Obama Administration.  But here’s why our leadership is so important on this issue. 

A lot of people look at the ocean and they say, “Wow, endless water, enormous vast expanse, there’s no way anything can have a negative impact on it.”  But nothing could be further from the truth.  One-third of the world’s fisheries are being overfished.  Almost every other fishery is at maximum level of sustainability.  So it is threatened with overfishing.  In addition, the levels of plastic and pollution from construction and development are extraordinary, and there are now some 500 dead zones in the ocean, an area that equals about the size of Great Britain, where nothing lives, nothing grows. 

In addition to that, climate change, the causes of climate change are also the cause of profound change in the oceans themselves, because the greenhouse gases that go up into the atmosphere that heat the earth also provide particulates – carbon dioxide acidification that falls into the ocean and it is rapidly being perceived as having a profound impact on ecosystems in the ocean.  It is possible that this level of acidification in the ocean can grow to a level where it literally destroys species in the oceans.  So you could have an ecosystem collapse as a consequence of the contributions of coal burning, oil, gas, the acidification that takes place in the ocean.

So it is profoundly important that we join together.  The levels of plastic being dumped in the ocean has reached a point where, by the year 2025, you could have one ton of plastic in the ocean for every three tons of fish.  And we find that the fish and birds, marine mammals, ingest the plastic and they die.  So it has a profound impact on the ecosystem of the oceans themselves. 

China and the United States, the two largest economies in the world, two of the top fishing nations in the world, two of the global leaders in ocean science.  So we have a very real opportunity here to be able to come together in this special session to deal with conserving and protecting the oceans.  We are working hard already to address this.  We know there’s a lot more that we can do.  Our nations have agreed to launch a sister city initiative that will enable us to jointly improve our waste collection, our management, our recycling.  And we can do this both at home and with developing countries.

We’ve also discussed here today the importance of establishing a Marine Protected Area in the  Antarctic Ross Sea – one of the world’s last remaining pristine marine environments – and we will be working together to realize this goal later this year when our countries hopefully approve the Marine Protected Area.  The United States and China have agreed to work together to improve the effectiveness of our already existing Marine Protected Areas as well, and we’ve identified a number of scientific and management issues which we can focus on in the months ahead.

So together, we’re going to increase our efforts to combat illegal, unreported, and unregistered fishing, and we agree that the Port State Measures Agreement is a very important step forward in trying to accomplish this goal.  I hope China will soon join the United States in pursuing this agreement’s ratification.   

In addition, the United States and China will expand cooperation among our coast guard and maritime law enforcement authorities in order to uphold international laws and standards.  And this is a move that is going to help to end the economic injustice in – which we see on many of the oceans, and it will benefit people who fish legally and people who live by the international standards. 

So these are just some of the steps that we’re going to be taking.  We look forward to building on them at the Ocean Conference in Chile later this year and then building on it even going out into next year.  

So I want to thank State Councilor Yang and Administrator Wang and all of you for taking part in this session.  The oceans are part of us, all of us, every country that borders the ocean and so many countries that depend on fish for the protein that feeds their people.  We need to heed carefully the responsibilities that we have.  Almost every single philosophy of life, whether it’s Confucianism, Hinduism, or every religion – all talk about the responsibility of human beings to care for creation, to take care of the planet.  And we are reminded in the Pope’s most recent encyclical of the importance of this responsibility. 

So I thank everybody for taking part in this session.  We believe this could be a real centerpiece, as climate change is, in the newly defining relationship between the United States and China.  Thank you, State Councilor.

STATE COUNCILOR YANG:  (Via interpreter)  Mr. Secretary of State, Administrator Wang Hong, Under Secretary Novelli, it gives me great pleasure to join Secretary Kerry at the special session on ocean protection between our two countries.  Our two teams have had very practical and comprehensive and useful discussions on our maritime cooperation.  I salute their professionalism and I also congratulate the session on its success.

The ocean is the shared homeland of mankind, vital for our survival and development.  In the 21st century, rich resources of the ocean have brought enormous wealth to mankind.  The advanced maritime transportation has also linked countries closely to each other.  At the same time, the ocean also faces climate change, environmental pollution, reckless development of resources, and frequent disasters, as well as other new challenges.  Whether it is to maintain maritime safety or protect marine ecology, the sustainable development of the ocean requires sincere cooperation and collective responses from all countries, including China and the United States.

China is a maritime civilization with an ancient history, as evidenced by the ancient Silk Road, the ancient maritime Silk Road and navigator Zheng He’s voyages to the western seas.  Since the founding of the new China, especially since reform and opening up, the ocean features more and more prominently in China’s economic and social development, ecological protection, and opening up.  The Chinese Government values international maritime cooperation and is committed to working with all countries in the world to build maritime passages, maintain maritime security, develop the blue economy, harness marine resources, so as to force harmony, cooperation, and a sound environment of the ocean. 

As major maritime countries, China and the United States have made positive contribution to advancing humanity’s exploration, understanding, development, protection, and maintenance of the ocean.  We have brought common interests in global maritime governance.  In recent years, our two sides have deepened policy exchanges and practical cooperation in the maritime sector.  We have established a Joint Committee on Maritime, Scientific, and Technology Cooperation, dialogue on the Law of the Sea and the polar issues, and a Marine Science Forum as well as other exchange mechanisms.  We also enjoyed fruitful cooperation in marine science, maritime law enforcement and security, sustainable use of marine resources, and maritime search and rescue, just to name a few.

Last June, China sent a high-level delegation to the first Our Ocean Conference chaired by Secretary Kerry.  The United States has also given strong support to the fourth APEC Ocean-Related Ministerial Meeting successfully hosted by China.  This special session on ocean protection held on the Strategic Track is yet another important step by our two sides to increase dialogue and expand cooperation.

Ladies and gentlemen, under the new circumstances, China and the United States need to work harder and make ocean protection the new growth area for China-U.S. cooperation.  Building on the existing dialogue and cooperation mechanisms, our two sides need to enrich our channel of communication, increase dialogue, and discuss practical cooperation on marine ecological progress, marine environmental survey, ocean debris and acidification, maintenance of fishing resources, and development of a blue economy.  We need to share our experience, realize complementarity, and leave future generations with a blue ocean and a blue sky. 

Through personnel exchanges, mutual visits of vessels, joint law enforcement, skills training, and other ways our two sides can increase ties between our maritime enforcement authorities; enhance our cooperation in combating illegal use of high seas drift net, maritime humanitarian rescue, and transportation and management of dangerous goods; and jointly build a peaceful and tranquil marine environment.  China and the United States have important common interests and shoulder important common responsibilities in international maritime affairs.  Our two sides need to further step up our practical cooperation in the UN, APEC, and the regional fisheries management organizations, as well as other multilateral frameworks; step up policy communications on the Law of the Sea and the Polar Issues; increase communication and exchanges on maritime issues of mutual interest; jointly uphold a fair and reasonable international maritime order; and promote prosperity and the sustainable development of the ocean. 

Just now, Secretary Kerry talked about our cooperation in international maritime forums.  I believe our two teams will work closely so that in the future international forums, we will have better cooperation and we will lead by example.  Thank you.