The five-day East Asian Seas Congress 2012 that ended Monday in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province discussed sustainable development of ocean resources in East Asia at a time when old rivalries have resurfaced over maritime boundaries.
The main areas of territorial dispute in the region are the Senkaku or Diaoyu islands between Japan and China, Russia's Kuril Islands, which Japan also claims, and the Paracel and Spratly islands disputed between China and Vietnam.
The Spratly Islands (called Nansha in Chinese and Truong Sa in Vietnamese) have been a key area of dispute since the late 19th century and are still being claimed by several countries in the region. Last month, Vietnam drew fierce protests from China by sending two fighter jets on a reconnaissance mission over the islands.
Countries get so exercised because of the underwater resources surrounding such islands and the geographic ownership of surrounding waters that comes with the territories. An estimated 28 billion tons of oil and 7,500 sq. km of natural gas are buried under the South China Sea.
The East Asian Seas Congress, now in its fourth year, examines sustainable development strategies for the seas of East Asia and seeks to strengthen partnerships between different countries. This year’s meeting was co-hosted by the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs and Changwon city.
The largest-ever event of its kind, the congress focused on the theme "Building a Blue Economy: Strategy, Opportunities, and Partnerships in the Seas of East Asia." The concept signifies a development strategy that does not damage the natural ecosystem of the ocean, while minimizing waste of natural resources.
Some 1,500 people took part in the opening ceremony, including officials from member nations of the Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia, a regional program implemented by the UN Development Programme, as well as ministers from 14 partner countries, maritime experts, private businesses, NGO staff and students.
"The solution to depleting land resources and climate change lies in the ocean," Changwon Mayor Park Wan-su said in his opening address. “The theme of building a blue economy will offer new alternatives and visions to the dawning maritime age of East Asia."
Many meetings took place on the sidelines of the congress, including a ministerial forum, special congress of PEMSEA member nations, international workshops, inter-governmental forums, as well as seminars for students. International organizations, universities, research centers, NGOs and private businesses set up around 100 booths at the congress venue, while various exhibitions and other events were also held.
Participants discussed the potential gains and challenges posed by sustainable maritime development during the ministerial forum last Thursday. They issued a declaration vowing to work toward acquiring the necessary technology for eco-farming and to develop renewable energy resources from the ocean and achieve economic benefits. Member nations and other participants also pledged to conduct research on the socio-economic losses from the degradation of marine ecosystems.