Vietnam needs urgent guidelines for land reclamation from the sea

January 17, 2024 | 03:22 pm PT
Doan Van Binh Member of Vietnam Tourism Advisory Board
Recently I made a long business trip to several countries to explore post-Covid recovery. During the trip, one aspect that caught my attention: how countries reclaim land from the sea for economic development.

For instance, in 2023 the UAE's real estate sector, which mainly consists of land reclaimed from the sea, contributed approximately US$110 billion to Dubai's economy.

Vietnam's territorial waters extend approximately one million square kilometers, three times its land area and accounting for one third of the South China Sea.

Vietnam has 28 provinces and cities adjoining the sea, and has a coastline of over 3,200 kilometers and over 3,000 islands.

Over 20 years ago the late Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet wrote to the HCMC administration to expand seaward by developing Can Gio District.

David Pickus, an American professor, said in an op-ed that the ocean is an immeasurable treasure that Vietnam should seek to explore further.

The Communist Party Central Committee, at its eighth plenary session, set a goal that Vietnam would be a country with strong marine economy.

Cities and localities are quickly making plans for land reclamation and maritime development.

But the big question is how Vietnam can manage all this without strong centralized planning.

One way may be to learn from the lessons of other countries.

For example, the Netherlands began to reclaim land from the sea in the 13th century and Japan in the 15th century. Since 2000 the global land reclamation area has exceeded 2,500 square kilometers, or equal to the total area of some countries, with China, Indonesia and the UAE being the leaders.

Land reclamation is done with very specific purposes, including territorial expansion (Singapore), constructing administrative-economic zones (China), economy-focused city (Sri Lanka), entertainment and culture-focused city (the Philippines), international commerce-focused city (Nigeria), for major real estate projects (UAE), airport construction (Japan), and many others.

In Vietnam, localities reclaiming land on a major scale include Quang Ninh, Hai Phong, Da Nang, and Kien Giang.

But they all faced issues with planning and lack of official guidance, which exposed local leaders and businesses to legal risks.

Last year 15 out of 28 coastal localities published their centralized plans, but only four -- Thanh Hoa, Soc Trang, Ben Tre, and Kien Giang -- mentioned land reclamation in them.

Thanh Hoa Province referred to reclamation from an environmental protection perspective, while the other three have detailed land reclamation plans.

At the national level, Vietnam needs to invest in prospecting all coastal areas for land reclamation.

The aspects of land reclamation to focus on include learning the hydrometeorology, oceanic resources, environmental impacts, tides, infrastructure, local livelihoods, etc.

After prospecting, Vietnam needs a national-level land reclamation framework, including detailed plans for major projects like economy-focused zones, smart cities, airports, seaports, free-trade zones, etc, which would attract international investments.

The processes also need a detailed study of the land reclamation methods used by other countries, from which Vietnam should strive to build a set of standards and methods that are suitable for its specific conditions.

Vietnam should seek to learn new material technologies from other countries to prevent the overreliance on sand, a limited resource, for reclamation, and maintain the ban on sand export.

The central planning should be publicized, including detailed debates on the opportunities and challenges, to promote public understanding of the issue.

Vietnam should also embrace an open and cohesive policy related to land reclamation, with clear legal guidance drawn from the laws on land, ocean, resources, ocean and islands.

Vietnam could also privatize land reclamation efforts with close oversight by the government.

With the use of technology and various other resources, every country could look towards land reclamation to develop its economy and ensure national and maritime security.

If Vietnam is too late in creating centralized guidelines for reclamation, it will be very difficult for it to become a country with strong marine economy in 2045 as it targets.

*Doan Van Binh is the vice president of the Vietnam National Real Estate Association.

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