This report contains a correction.
Introduction and summary
The United States and China share a deep common interest in ocean protection. The world’s ocean and coastal resources are currently under threat from overfishing, pollution, and unchecked resource extraction. Global ocean health is declining rapidly and has already reached crisis levels. As the largest ocean stakeholders—with unparalleled dependence on seaborne trade, the economic vitality of coastal cities, and the production and consumption of living marine resources—the United States and China face new, increasing economic and security risks from the degradation of global ocean health.
Yet the ocean also represents a tremendous opportunity for the two countries to turn this trend around. The marine environment has a proven capacity to heal and rebuild itself under proper management, and as the two largest economies in the world, the United States and China have an ability as well as a responsibility to rally other countries on issues relating to the global commons. In the run-up to the 2015 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties in Paris, it was a bilateral agreement between the United States and China that paved the way for multilateral agreement on a landmark climate accord.1 The same could happen on ocean protection. If the United States and China can forge a common agenda for action, the rest of the world will follow.
To be sure, thus far in 2018, the U.S.-China relationship has trended in a direction that has made game-changing cooperation increasingly difficult to achieve—at least in the near term. On the U.S. side, the Trump administration is viewing its policy toward China through a narrow lens that focuses exclusively on trade and North Korea; all other issues struggle to find space on the leadership agenda. That approach prioritizes immediate U.S. concerns but also makes it difficult to pursue and expand bilateral cooperation on broader, longer-term issues, such as ocean protection, where the two nations share common interests and China has a growing capability to contribute to the global commons. While the U.S. and Chinese governments grapple with difficult issues, at a nongovernmental level, their experts have an opportunity to join forces in an effort to lay groundwork for future cooperation on broader issues such as ocean protection.