Amid global changes unseen in a century and technological transformation brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, China is well positioned to lead the international shipping industry in establishing a world innovation and knowledge center for sustainable transportation, officials and industry insiders said at a forum on Wednesday.
The inaugural World Maritime Merchants Forum, with the theme of "leading the trend", was hosted by China Merchants Group, the Baltic and International Maritime Council, the International Chamber of Shipping and the Hong Kong Shipowners Association. The forum aims to expand cooperation in the shipping chain, promote resource-sharing and establish a new global shipping ecology amid the great changes of digitalization and decarbonization.
"The shipping industry plays an important role in the nation's economy and global trading through supporting domestic circulation and contributing to economic globalization," Li Xiaopeng, China's minister of transportation, told the forum. "While significant achievements have been made over the years, the challenges remain."
He proposed strengthening cooperation through infrastructure construction and policy synergy within the international shipping industry to build the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.
The role of the shipping industry in the global economy is as crucial as the blood vessels to the human body, as around 90 percent of traded goods are transported via water, said Yin Zonghua, deputy director of the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
With the world's economic center of gravity shifting to China and East Asia following the pandemic, China has the most connected shipping networks in the world, Yin said, noting that China is the largest trading partner of more than 120 countries and regions worldwide and has seven of the world's 10 biggest ports.
He added that Hong Kong has a bigger role to play as an international maritime center and a gateway for trade between the Chinese mainland and the rest of the world.
Amid China's industrial chain optimization, trading with neighboring countries has become increasingly close, said Xu Lirong, chairman of China COSCO Shipping Corp. In the first eight months of this year, China's imports and exports to member nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has reached 3.59 trillion yuan ($562 billion), an increase of 22.8 percent year-on-year, he said.
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement also further consolidates China's position as a global supply chain hub, Xu said, adding that the agreement has great potential for driving global trade.
The RCEP agreement was signed by 15 Asia-Pacific countries, including China and ASEAN's 10 member states, in November last year. It covers about 30 percent of the world's gross domestic product, trade and population. China's direct investment in RCEP member countries reached $15.44 billion in 2020, surging 34 percent year-on-year, according to Xu.
However, the shipping industry still faces bottlenecks and obstacles, said Miao Jianmin, chairman of China Merchants Group, referring to a structural imbalance and great volatility of business operations, an inadequacy to adapt to emergencies, and challenges in carrying out industrial decarbonization.
Esben Poulsson, chairman of the International Chamber of Shipping, said, "While there are some very promising new technologies for zero (carbon) emissions, the reality is that we are far from having all the answers."