China's fish boat diplomacy arouses Southern Hemispheric fears

CHINA's aggressive fishing fleet is heading for Australia amid a raging trade war, reports Sydney based Nationwide News

29 December 2020 - 19:00
CHINA's aggressive fishing fleet is heading for Australia amid a raging trade war, reports Sydney based Nationwide News.

Beijing's huge fishing fleet has long since stripped its own waters bare and has mercilessly prowled other oceans, said the report.

'What makes China's huge fishing fleet different is organised and overseen by the Communist Party. And it's used to assert the territorial ambitions of the Communist Party,' said the report.

Centre for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) Indo-Pacific analyst Blake Herzinger said international governments are starting to wake up.

Wherever the fleet goes, he said, armed coast guard ships follow - no matter how far from China's coast the fleet may be. And China's coast guard is not a civilian police force. The People's Liberation Army operates it.

Mr Herzinger said Beijing's fishing fleet is not just a commercial operation. It is organised as a militia. Key factory ships have Communist Party commissars watching over the captains and their operations. Selected crews are trained to work in concert with the People's Liberation Army Navy.

In return, Beijing pays its fuel bill - the fishing fleet's single greatest expense. It's a massive subsidy that allows it to undercut its international competitors significantly.

Some vessels do no fishing at all, said Mr Herzinger. Instead, their job is to monitor the active fleet, intimidate fishermen of other nations, or simply sit provocatively inside another nation's territory.

This makes them a diplomatic weapon, part of Beijing's determination to wage 'hybrid war' - the use of every means available short of kinetic weaponry - to assert its will.

Mr Herzinger says international fishing regulations are being enforced - but only against weaker nations such as Cambodia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam.

It's now the world's largest fleet. Its operations span the globe. One count places the number of deepwater vessels at its disposal at 12,500. Beijing says only 3,000 boats operate in international waters.

But the full extent of its operations came to light earlier this year when Global Fishing Watch released a study based on satellite data and tracking analysis.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Border Force vessels would monitor the region to enforce territorial boundaries and joint-fishing treaties.

China's negotiations for access to a Papua New Guinea port would give it access to Australia's fisheries.

Said former government foreign policy advisor Philip Citowicki: 'The reality is that it continues to seat PNG at the centre of a tug of war, where the presence of China's authoritarianism is increasingly imprinting itself on the fledgling democracies of the Pacific,' he writes.

'Rarely driven by altruism or regional responsibility, it places both the resources and security of the region at risk,' he said.

In 2018, the Lowy Institute foresaw Beijing's fleet 'may soon create new security headaches for Australia'.

'The impact of Chinese fishing has important strategic consequences for Australia's region in several ways,' said David Brewster, of the National Security College at the Australian National University.

'There is a good chance that fishing will become a key locus of disputes and incidents involving China,.' he said,

Chile's navy is on alert, said the report. China's fishing fleet is currently off its shores. Some 400 vessels are operating in international waters. The Chilean navy says 11 have so far crossed into its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

China's Ecuadorean embassy insists Beijing has a 'zero tolerance' policy towards illegal fishing. Yet few complaints are followed up. Fewer are upheld.

Centre for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) Indo-Pacific analyst Blake Herzinger said international governments are starting to wake up.

'Globally, economic losses from illegal fishing are difficult to quantify, but there is little disagreement that the overall economic loss totals tens of billions of dollars yearly, encompassing lost tax revenue, onshore fishing industry jobs, and depletion of food supplies,' he said.

The small South American nations of Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru are worried their fisheries are in the process of being looted.

In November they issued a joint statement asserting they would combine their limited resources 'to prevent, discourage and jointly confront' any illegal fishing operations.

Beijing's fishing fleet also sells huge quantities to markets such as the US, Europe and Australia. Exactly how much it takes from the oceans is unknown. The militia does not report its catch to international authorities. Only the Communist Party gets that data.

China's politically-controlled fleet is now operational worldwide. It also can be found among European and African vessels in the Atlantic Ocean off northwest Africa.

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates 90 per cent of global commercial fish stocks are depleted. Now climate change is destroying environments, with 'dead zones' of oxygen-depleted waters expanding in the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal.

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