11 Nov Articles, lectures, and videos are attached and linked below. Neo Video(2020) : https://youtu.be/riETCR7FnZE Lecture: https://youtu.be/HxW_w6pPD1o Based on the questions below, discus
Articles, lectures, and videos are attached and linked below.
Neo Video(2020) :
Based on the questions below, discuss the pros and cons of coastal reclamation.
- What is coastal reclamation? Refer to the lecture video/slides.
- As Sengupta et al. (2018) show us, there has been a surge in coastal reclamation across the world. Why is it getting popular? What are main purposes? What benefits does coastal reclamation bring to the society?
- Choi's article (2019) and the Neo video (2020) highlight the contentious/controversial aspects of coastal reclamation. What are the social and ecological impacts of coastal reclamation? Also, is coastal reclamation economically viable?
- Given all the knowledge you've acquired, what is your own view on coastal reclamation? On what basis would you support it? On what basis would you oppose it?
- the rule of CSC — a clear, specific, and coherent writing; and
- the length of the writing ( 400 words).
China’s Coasts, a Contested Sustainability Frontier Young Rae Choi
Introduction In September 2014, I attended the International Workshop on Intertidal Wetland
Conservation and Management in the Yellow Sea Provinces of China hosted by the Beijing
Forestry University. The workshop included over 160 participants: officials from national and
provincial levels of the Chinese government, scientists, policy researchers, and representatives
from international and national NGOs and project organizations concerned with the conservation
of tidal flats. Discussion was fuelled by reports from numerous sites along China’s eastern coasts,
all indicating uncontrollable practices of land reclamation and the subsequent loss of tidal flats at
an alarming rate. Local officials demanded that the central government pass stronger regulations
and more effectively enforce the existing ones. Yet, it was clear that even the State Oceanic
Administration, China’s top-tier government apparatus in charge of governing its coastal and
marine space and resources, had little power when it came to safeguarding the disappearing tidal
flats. The conference participants lamented that the Chinese state’s recent eagerness for
sustainable development did not seem to apply to coastal territories that deserve equal
preservation for social and ecological advancement. The workshop ended with a concluding
declaration that illustrated the uneasiness and the urgency that were widely felt at the workshop:
The 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China identified eco-civilization as
the national strategy. However, the implementation of national polices including ecological
redlining, a national wetland conservation policy, and eco-compensation, which began a
new era for coastal wetland conservation, never happened … The status of reclamation
and degradation of the Yellow Sea wetlands is extremely shocking and is resulting in a
very critical situation. In the last decade, 2% has been lost every year. 1.4 million ha has
been lost since 2005, making up 22% of the total area of wetlands.1
China’s coasts are going through a massive socioecological transformation. Land
reclamation, accused at the conference and elsewhere of being the most significant threat to the
biodiversity conservation of tidal flats, is a practice that creates land by filling in coastal wetlands
and shallow waters. The latest reclamation boom that began in the early 2000s, enrolling every
coastal province across China, is unprecedented in its scale and speed. Between 2003 and 2005,
the annual reclaimed land area surged more than fivefold, from 21.23 to 116.62 km2. Since then
the annual average has stayed above 100 km2. Roughly speaking, China adds the land equivalent
of two Manhattans every year. The total area of land that China has created post-millennium is
over 1,450 km2.2
While the insatiable desire for land is fast encroaching upon the coasts, resistance to land
reclamation for environmental reasons is becoming even more difficult as the practice of
reclamation is increasingly perceived as ‘ecological’ in twenty-first-century China. This
phenomenon signifies a break from previous assessments of coastal reclamation as one of the
greatest and irreversible causes of marine biodiversity and habitat degradation in the East Asian
While it seems to stand in opposition to the now popular ‘eco-’ agenda of the Chinese
state, reclamation projects today acquire legitimacy under the emerging paradigm of sustainability.
They do this by incorporating eco-cities, renewable energy infrastructure, carefully designed non-
human habitats, and nature reserves into their designs. In contemporary China, reclamation is no
longer about destructive development; it is about creative production (see also Paprocki; Zee;
and McDuie-Ra, this volume). Coastal land reclamation is likewise not a mere land creation
project; it is about envisioning new materialities and values about what China’s future should look
like (see Woodworth and Günel, this volume).
This chapter examines the recent transformations of China’s coasts into resource frontiers
entangled with the country’s broader and deeper societal transformations. Specifically, I look at
how China’s coastal spaces are reconfigured as repositories for land provision and as an
experimental and an idealized platform where China’s new vision for its sustainable future is
projected, tested, and demonstrated (see also Paprocki, this volume). Along with others in this
volume, this chapter conceptualizes China’s coasts as an emergent ‘frontier assemblage’ that is
invented through the works of multiple contingent forces and processes and is subject to new and
more intensive forms of exploitation. Thinking through the notion of frontier assemblage, I draw
upon Tania Li’s works on assembling land as an investible resource (Li, 2014a, b) and Anna
Tsing’s insights on frontiers (Tsing, 2003, 2005). A resource, Li argues, does not possess an
inherent quality to function as a resource. It is produced as a resource through complex assembly
work of ‘heterogeneous elements including material substances, technologies, discourses and
practices’ that render something valuable at specific moments in time and place (Li, 2014b: 589).
Likewise, a resource frontier does not pre-exist but is made as a frontier through the works of
material and imaginative renderings (Tsing, 2003).
Both Li and Tsing emphasize a conjunctural approach to the formation of a resource
frontier. China’s coasts, I argue, are situated at a conjuncture of a highly particular political
economy of land and an emerging politics around sustainability as China’s next model of
economic and social development (see also Anderson, this volume). This conjuncture does not
merely frame post-millennial coastal land-reclamation practices. It shows where China is heading
against the backdrop of, on the one hand, the predicament of an urban-driven growth strategy
that the country has moved toward for over two decades and, on the other, the socioecological
crises that China’s modern development experiences have brought in turn. The following sections
of this chapter examines the way these processes render coastlines as new resource frontiers: at
once producing for land itself and spatializing sustainability onto reclaimed land.
Making a frontier entails ‘conjuring’ certain positive imaginaries about the frontier (Roy and
Ong, 2011; Li, 2014b) and rendering the place as backward, underdeveloped, messy, and even
empty (see Cons and Eilenberg, this volume). Gavin Bridge describes these dual frames of
frontier making as ‘bountiful emptiness’ (Bridge, 2001). A frontier is depicted as full of potentials
and opportunities while imagined as unmapped and unpopulated. Such dialectic formation of
frontiers has an effect of legitimizing interventions and exploitations. Yet, interventions often fail.
As Jason Cons and Michael Eilenberg note in the Introduction of this volume, frontiers often
become ‘terrains of failure, contestation, and conflict’. On China’s coasts, ‘imposing sustainability’
creates, if not outright failures, tensions, frictions, and anxiety that reveal the unsustainability of
the very interventions carried out as sustainable (Neumann, 1998).
Focusing on Tianjin Binhai New Area (TBNA) and Tangshan Caofeidian, two adjacent
large-scale reclamation sites in the Bohai Bay region, I interrogate the controversies around this
particular vision of sustainability that have been projected onto the coasts. While I draw upon a
literature on China’s eco-cities that has critiqued China’s embrace of global discourses of
sustainability, my observations reveal that the processes of spatializing sustainability reach
beyond eco-city sites and spread along the entire coast. I rely on an assemblage approach to
develop a critical analysis of sustainability. In doing so, I highlight the paradox of China’s
sustainability agenda which allows interventions to erase existing biophysical and social realities
on the coast while writing new ecological futures upon the subsequent coastal ruins (Stoler, 2013;
see also Paprocki, this volume). Navigating through reclamation landscapes raises fundamental
questions about ‘sustainability’ of what, and for whom. Addressing such questions, this chapter
makes a case that China’s coasts have turned into a contested frontier of sustainability.
China’s Coasts as a Frontier Assemblage The nationwide reclamation fever that sprouted in the early 2000s had gone almost
unnoticed by the public for many years. It was only after the Tangshan government’s debt scandal
in 2013 regarding its inability to finance the Caofeidian reclamation project that major Chinese
media outlets began to pay attention to large-scale reclamation practices in the country.4 A year
later news spread globally with a Guardian report that delivered vivid visual presentations of
Caofeidian that by that time had turned into a ‘ghost city’ (see Woodworth, this volume).5 That
China’s coasts had not pre-existed as a major source of land and that coastal reclamation
practices sporadically but contemporarily became a prominent way to provision urban and
industrial land suggest what Bruce Braun called ‘the contingency of the present’ (Braun, 2002).
An assemblage, according to Braun, is a transitory moment where things do not pre-exist but
create a contingently and temporarily fixed state. China’s coasts have emerged through a frontier
assemblage of heterogeneous events, processes, and forces converging against the backdrop of
China’s developmental and environmental challenges. Among the multiple elements that
constitute this assemblage, I here elaborate two at work at the national level: a desire for land
and a desire for spatializing sustainability.
A Desire for Land Land is a peculiar commodity. Land is geographically fixed and as such is unable to be
removed. As Tania Li describes it, ‘you cannot roll it up and take it away’ (Li, 2014: 589). Likewise,
land does not reproduce. Land may be repackaged for the purpose of more intense and diverse
uses, but the sources for new land are strictly limited. Land in China has an extraordinary status.
Despite the fact that China has the world’s third largest land area as its territory, land is considered
one of the nation’s most critically scarce resources. In popular discourses, land scarcity is linked
to population increase in markedly Malthusian terms: through fears of shortages in food and
housing provision. For example, an often-invoked narrative says that the size of arable land per
capita in China is merely 25–41% of the global average.6 Land scarcity is narrativized to justify
interventions to protect agricultural land. Similarly, a need for housing to accommodate the
growing population justifies the desire to seek additional land.
These two types of land use (agriculture and housing) have been in intense conflict over
the past decades because of China’s rapid urbanization. During what You-Tien Hsing termed ‘the
great urban transformation’ (Hsing, 2010), the urban population rocketed – from 20% in 1978 to
more than 50% in 2012. The figure is expected to rise to 70% by 2030. In terms of physical space,
land designated as ‘urban’ expanded dramatically, at a rate even higher than the growth of urban
population (Development Research Center of the State Council and World Bank, 2014). As land
was mostly provisioned through rural-to-urban land conversion, rampant and forceful conversion
of agricultural land led to massive displacement of rural residents. A tense period of massive rural
demonstrations against urbanization in 1997 even forced the government to declare a one-year
moratorium on land use conversion (Cartier, 2001; O’Brien, 2008).
The coastal land-reclamation boom of the 2000s is primarily situated in this struggle
between urban and agricultural land. It is uncertain whether the new regulations on farmland
protection were driven by the government’s political fear of potential insurgencies by dissatisfied
farmers or by its concern about the decline in agricultural production due to unregulated land
grabbing. Nevertheless, the late 1990s and the early 2000s saw a rise of discourses invoking
potential food insecurity, which effectively legitimized the government’s hurried move and strict
enforcement of agricultural protection. The New Land Administration Law, set up in 1999,
designated a total of 1.2 million km2 of agricultural land as protected basic farmland across China
(Lin and Yi, 2011; Lai et al., 2014). The outcome was the creation of what is called the ‘red-line’:
a firm boundary where urban growth must stop before encroaching onto rural land.
The notion of land scarcity translated into stricter farmland protection policies hence set
up the stage for prompting coastal land reclamation as an alternative source of land. This in turn
became a major source of income for local governments. A study reports that up to 70% of local
governments’ revenues were estimated to come from land development in 2010; the figure is
around 45% as of 2014.7 With this imperative for profit-making from land development, local
governments frequently invoke the term ‘red-line’ when asked about their rationales for delving
into large-scale reclamation. ‘If you want to move the red-line, you must compensate hundreds of
thousands of yuan for the cost of farmland’, I was told in 2013 by a prefecture-level official in
charge of coastal reclamation.
But for what do they keep producing land? Today’s coastal reclamation fever is
distinguished from previous ones not only for its scale but for land use. Reclamation booms prior
to the 1990s were driven by the production of fish farms, salt paddies, and agricultural land. In
contrast, official statistics indicate that over 90% of the new land reclaimed since 2002 is
earmarked for ‘construction land’, i.e. for urban and industrial purposes.8 Given the scale of
postmillennial reclamation practices, this indicates that the desire for land is specifically about
what Myung-Rae Cho has called ‘construction as accumulation’ and, in particular, the spatial
expansion of urban development (Cho, 2006). In this sense, discourses of land scarcity that drive
reclamation are relative ones: the demand for urban land from reclaimed coastal spaces was a
reaction to the heightened institutional barrier to accessing agricultural land, while the underlying
cause of urbanization was never questioned.
A Desire for Spatializing Sustainability Circa the late-2000s, a new phenomenon began to emerge where coastal land
reclamation was increasingly labelled as an ‘ecological’ practice. In other words, reclamation
projects were increasingly reimagined as sound ‘eco’ projects that were good not only for growth,
but also for the environment. ‘Eco-’ labels flourish in reclamation sites today. It is not cities, but
‘eco-cities’ that are built on reclaimed land. New industrial zones are justified by their reduction of
greenhouse gas emissions, waste, and pollution and their increased recycling functions for
realizing a circular economy (Zhang et al., 2011). Renewable energy infrastructure as well as the
engineered nature in the form of canals, wetlands, and green landscaping have become integral
to coastal land-reclamation projects.
This ‘environmentalization’ or ‘greening’ of coastal land reclamation is a key feature of the
state’s broader sustainability agenda (Chen, 2013; Anderson, this volume). This agenda seeks to
revamp the very configuration of society in order to secure ‘harmonious, balanced, and
sustainable development’. The agenda can be traced back to ‘eco-civilization’, a slogan
announced by Hu Jintao at the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party in 2007. Julie Sze
notes that Hu’s speech was ‘the first time the Chinese Communist Party had highlighted ecology,
putting it explicitly on the Party’s agenda’ (Sze, 2015: 36). Since then, the Chinese state has
pursued this goal aggressively. China’s past two national five-year plans adopted various
mechanisms including green finance, an emission trading scheme, and investment in expanding
renewable energy infrastructure.9 While the question remains as to how many of these
mechanisms will be effectively enforced, an increasing number of commentators agree with Jane
Golley’s claim that ‘there is ample evidence to suggest this commitment is real’ (Golley, 2016: 7).
Golley argues that China’s capacity to bring changes has reached ‘an extent that green
supporters in advanced democratic countries can only dream about’ (2016: 7). China’s push for
sustainability is now envied and celebrated in various venues, as demonstrated by a recent World
Economic Forum video boasting that ‘China is now the world’s biggest producer of solar power’.10
‘Sustainability’ as a malleable, undemonstrated concept crucial to the
environmentalization of the Chinese state necessitates space to test its possibilities and to prove
its feasibility and efficacy (Chen et al., 2017). In China, new eco-cities have assumed that role.
Eco-cities are a globally emerging urban planning model designed to save energy and minimize
environmental impacts. Eco-cities have been enthusiastically embraced by the state as a solution
to the multi-faceted socioecological challenges emerging from decades of industrialization-driven
development (Caprotti, 2016). Moreover, eco-cities allow the Chinese state to continue to pursue
sustainability without giving up an urbanization-driven growth model. In effect, eco-cities are at
the centre of the national land development strategy. As Chien argues, eco-cities are ‘the third
round of large-scale transformation since the economic reform’ following the development zones
(kaifaqu) in the 1980s and college towns (daxuecheng) in the 1990s (Chien, 2013). These indicate
that eco-cities are themselves an assemblage formed at a historical conjuncture of the material
consequences of intense industrialization of the past, the ongoing urbanization-driven growth
strategy, and China’s emergent vision for a sustainable future.
Many authors have studied eco-cities constructed on reclaimed land, although they have
not focused on processes of reclamation per se (Chang and Sheppard, 2013; Joss, 2015; Sze,
2015; Caprotti, 2016). Yet the two processes are intricately entangled in ways that are beyond
the political economy of land that renders coasts an attractive source of land. The new state
agenda of sustainability is less tolerant about the massive scale of ecological destruction that
inevitably accompanies reclamation practices. Destruction needs to be justified by producing
something countervailingly desirable. Eco-cities fulfil such a gap. In other words, the making of a
sustainability frontier is essential for legitimizing the desire for land. This way, the desire for
spatializing the vision of sustainability and the desire for land intersect through reclamation on
A Contested Sustainability Frontier The Binhai New Area in the Tianjin municipality and Caofeidian in the prefecture-level
Tangshan City in Hebei are among the largest coastal reclamation sites in China. The story of the
two reclamation sites, despite their differential administrative status and reputation, illustrates
several characteristics shared by numerous other sites along China’s coasts. Specifically, they
both feature large-scale land development driven by the strong will of local governments, an often-
prolonged construction period due to financial constraints, and mixed industrial and urban
planning. Both include an eco-city plan which effectively ‘greenwashes’ the reclamation project
In the TBNA and Tangshan Caofeidian, local governments’ political motivations grounded
on the notion of ‘lagging behind’ prompted large-scale reclamation. At the regional level, there
was a widespread perception that the Jingjinji (Beijing–Tianjin–Hebei) metropolitan region had
been losing competition compared to the dazzling success of the Pearl River Delta region. At the
city level, the rapid growth of other provincial-level municipalities such as Beijing and Shanghai in
the post-reform era prompted the public sentiment that ‘Tianjin became an underdeveloped city,
lagging behind Beijing, her neighbor, during China’s 30 years of planned economy’ (Zhu and Sun,
2009: 195). Similarly, the Caofeidian project allegedly was propelled by the Tangshan
government’s jealousy of Tianjin’s relative success.
In this context, reclamation was part of broader development planning for boosting
economic growth in both sites. The TBNA is composed of old and new development areas,
including three major industrial zones (Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area,
Tianjin Port Free Trade Zone, and Tianjin Port), three administrative districts (Tanggu, Hangu,
and Dagang), and the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City. About 307 km2 of coast was reclaimed as
new development over the past decade with more planned in the near future (Zhu et al., 2017).
Tangshan, on the other hand, envisioned its own development planning after it lost to Tianjin in
the national bid for the siting of the Sino-Singapore Eco-City. The city government largely relies
on coastal reclamation for land provision and on bank loans. The CFD, like the TBNA, is a
comprehensive land planning project including the ambitious Caofeidian International Eco-City
(150 km2). About 310 km2 of reclamation is planned; about 230 km2 has turned into land so far
(Wang et al., 2014; Liang et al., 2015).
But perhaps the key dynamic in assembling the coast as a frontier is the civil engineering
process of making land. As recent infrastructure studies demonstrate, large-scale civil
engineering practices not only bring transformative socioecological change but do so by
enhancing irreversibility in such a change (Graham, 2010; Carse, 2014; Harvey and Knox, 2015).
Land reclamation is a multi-stage process – necessitating building a seawall, drying the ground
inside the wall, filling in the ground with such materials as sand, mud, and construction waste,
and pounding and desalinating the elevated ground. The process of reclamation creates messy
and dusty landscapes and irreversibly buries marine life and habitats underground. For these
reasons, elsewhere in Asia, particularly in South Korea, coastal land-reclamation projects were
intensely opposed by environmentalists for this brutal materiality of land-making (Hahm and Kang,
2007; Park, 2007; Choi, 2014).
In the TBNA and Caofeidian, as is in many other sites in China, significant civil opposition
has not occurred for a variety of reasons. Yet, the dual tasks of frontier making – conjuring the
dream of a sustainable future and rendering the previous environment as undesirable – are still
ongoing. Apart from the various venues such as websites and government documents, visitor
centres seek to make the imagined future a tangible reality. The visitor centres of the Tianjin Sino-
Singapore Eco-City and the Caofeidian International Eco-City embody the desire for sustainability
with overwhelming representations of ‘green’ and ‘ecology’. For example, the Tianjin Eco-City
visitor centre welcomes visitors with a picture of egrets and lush wetlands covering an entire wall
of the main hall. The miniature planning model of the TBNA, not just the eco-city, is full of trees
and waterways. In contrast, the past landscape is narrated as a polluted wasteland. For example,
a series of images tells the tale of transforming a heavy-metal contaminated pond into a clean
waterfront. The visitor centres deliver a carefully purposed message that the grey construction
landscape outside the building is merely transitory and that a new blue and green future is will
soon become a reality. In doing so, they hide the destructive dimension of reclamation; instead,
reclamation is presented as a desirable practice that rescues nature from the existing status of
heavy pollution and even lets it prosper. In this way, the visitor centres display the transformation
of China’s sustainability dream into reality. In advancing this agenda, they encourage the visitor
to see past the actual scenes they see and instead envision a green and sustainable future (Figure
Increasingly, efforts to create a sustainability frontier on reclamation sites requires a
rewriting and memorialization of local histories, fishing traditions, and cultures. This produces an
ironic situation in which the fisher communities and marine ecologies that have been destroyed
through reclamation are remembered as those in need of preservation. For planners, they are
locally-specific assets for tourism, which is considered as a less-polluting and profitable eco-
industry’ squarely fit for a sustaina
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