Why is this important: China’s illegal fishing industry is the largest in the world. Beijing has made deep-sea fishing a geopolitical priority, viewing China’s private fishing fleets as a way to extend state power far beyond its coasts.
- A senior US administration official confirmed to Axios that several agencies across the government are “considering this in light of the president’s priorities,” which include “deepening cooperation with our allies and partners on the challenges we face. face for our economy and our national security. ”
What is happening: Huge fleets of hundreds of Chinese vessels have illegally fished boats in the territorial waters of South American countries, including off the Galapagos Islands.
- The activity depleted stocks and disrupted food chains, in a practice known as illegal, unreported or unregulated (IUU) fishing.
- South American nations say these fleets pose a challenge to their economic and environmental security, but their navies often lack the resources to effectively monitor and patrol their own waters.
- Last year, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru said they would join forces to defend their territorial waters against incursions by Chinese ships.
Details: “South American countries would likely welcome a coalition effort to increase trade pressure on China and the enforcement of fishing standards,” Office of Intelligence and Analysis officials wrote in a document from the 5. February qualified as sensitive but not classified.
- “Unilateral pressure from the United States would likely lead China to apply similar sanctions, just as Beijing has done by enacting a new law to counter U.S. restrictions on technology companies,” officials from the bureau said, an agency said. intelligence of the Department of Homeland Security.
- Several offices and agencies are working together on this effort, including the U.S. Coast Guard, the Office of Naval Intelligence, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the State Department, according to the document and government sources.
The document evaluated with “great confidence” that Chinese fishing in South American waters “would also cause continued economic damage to US domestic fisheries due to anti-competitive tactics.”
- He estimated with “moderate confidence” that China is likely to “continue to exploit fishing practices in South American waters despite recent measures taken by governments and an intergovernmental organization to limit these activities.”
- He also estimated with “moderate confidence” that the countries of South America would welcome a coalition to strengthen the application of fishing standards.
What they say: “There is a lack of understanding of this problem, that it is a global problem, that the fisheries are quite stressed,” the senior administration official told Axios.
- The Trump administration “has started working on the counter-IUU issue globally on China’s role since becoming the biggest perpetrator of this case,” the official said, who added that the Biden administration continued to see this as a priority.
Fond: Former Chinese President Hu Jintao called for making China a great maritime power, and in 2013 the Chinese State Council elevated the fishing industry to a strategic industry.
- The Chinese government provides subsidies to the fishing industry, which allows boats to cover fuel costs for sailing to remote coasts, especially near West Africa and South America.
- “China’s leaders see the offshore fleets as a way to project their presence around the world, so when the time comes to put regulatory frameworks in place, they will have a say in how those frameworks are put. in place, ”said Tabitha Mallory, CEO. from consulting firm China Ocean Institute and affiliate professor at the University of Washington.
- The aim is to be “present on all the oceans of the world so that they can guide the results of international agreements that cover maritime resources,” Mallory said, “including not only fishing but also exploitation. seabed mining, the Arctic ”and other key issues and regions.
The US government has paid more attention to China’s increasingly global deep-sea fishing fleets in recent years.
- The SAFE Law on Maritime Safety and Fisheries Control (SAFE), adopted in December 2019, established a “whole-of-government approach” to combat IUU fishing.
- In May 2020, President Trump issued an executive order to combat illegal fishing on the high seas and help promote U.S. competitiveness in the industry.
- In September 2020, the State Department added fish caught by China’s deep-sea fishing fleets to its list of goods produced with forced labor – a potential concern also raised in the DHS document.
The bottom line: “Other countries need to weigh in on these issues as well,” Mallory said. “Anything the United States does on its own will be seen by the Chinese as simply part of the context of increasing competition for power. ”