Journal of Geographical Sciences ›› 2021, Vol. 31 ›› Issue (3): 403-422.doi: 10.1007/s11442-021-1850-z

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Development characteristics and construction prospects for a multi-integrated economic zone in the South China Sea Region

JIN Fengjun1,2,3, YAO Zuolin1,2,3,4,*(), CHEN Zhuo1,2   

  1. 1. Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS, Beijing 100101, China
    2. Key Laboratory of Regional Sustainable Development Modeling, CAS, Beijing 100101, China
    3. College of Resources and Environment, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
    4. Faculty of Geographical Science, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China
  • Received:2020-06-30 Accepted:2020-09-20 Online:2021-03-25 Published:2021-05-25
  • Contact: YAO Zuolin
  • About author:Jin Fengjun (1961–), PhD and Professor, specialized in economic geography and regional development.
  • Supported by:
    Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences(XDA19040403);National Natural Science Foundation of China(41771134)


The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) instigated by China is catalyzing the evolution of a new global economic landscape. To cope with the great changes in the economic landscape, China needs to view the South China Sea Region (SCSR) as a strategic focus and study carefully the characteristics of regional development and explore the possibility for construction of a strategic multi-integrated economic zone which includes China and ASEAN countries. Based on key indicators, this paper outlines the overall development characteristics of the SCSR and analyzes the regional structural characteristics of industry and global trade based on the indexes of industrial structure similarity and trade commodity structure coincidence; the paper also depicts the spatial characteristics of the nine core growth areas (CGAs) in the region and discusses the construction prospects for a multi-integrated economic zone in the SCSR. The results show that, first, from 2000 to 2017, the main economic indicators of the SCSR grew quite well, and the development trend was much better than the global average for the same period. Second, driven by the global industrial transfer stages and spatial paths, the level of comprehensive development in the SCSR has evolved into four categories. Third, the index values for industrial structure similarity and trade commodity structure coincidence for the 11 countries in the SCSR have remained at a high level, and reveal an integration trend not only from the horizontal and vertical perspective, but also from an upgrading and downgrading standpoint. Fourth, nine CGAs have been established in the SCSR and the advantaged industries and the export commodity types between different countries exhibited the characteristics of convergence and complementarity due to the polarization and diffusion effects of the CGAs. Finally, from a long-term perspective, the SCSR has already acquired the internal and external conditions such as the 5th global industrial transfer initiative, the reconstruction of the global value chain, regional production-consumption networks and spatial entities for building a multi-integrated economic zone in the SCSR.

Key words: South China Sea Region (SCSR), regional integration, globalization and localization, China, ASEAN