Thursday, April 14, 2016

China in the South China Sea, Fishing

"The Chinese authorities consider fishermen and fishing vessels important tools in expanding China's presence and the country's claims in the disputed waters."
Zhang Hongzhou, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

"It is our water. But if we don't fish there, how can we claim it is our territory?"
Captain Chen Yuguo, Tanmen, Hainan


China has laid claim to 90 percent of the South China Sea. Its self-proclaimed territorial demarcation passes close to the shores of the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and the Natunas. None of which entities are too impressed by the close, persistent and insistent presence of the Asian giant determined to swallow territory at sea that they themselves claim in recognized maritime distance from their shores.

It makes sense that a maritime nation like China, with the world's largest population would also have an enormous fishing fleet. It makes sense that this enormous fishing fleet has, over time, virtually emptied that part of the South China Sea where Chinese fishing trawlers have traditionally plied their trade. That having been done, what to do with the fishing vessels other than to co-opt them into the larger maritime fleet China owns, and urge them to look a little further for their catch.

In waters claimed by other nearby maritime nations with and for their own fishing fleets and their naive impression that the waters off their shores are by international agreement under traditional maritime laws, theirs to be free with. But that was perhaps before China decided to deploy their own fishing fleet as an forward advance in their claims of territorial ownership of the vast sea that has suddenly become China's own.

Two members of the United Nations Security Council, Russia and China, both given to supporting positions that each takes, engaging in piracy; Moscow by co-opting the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine, and Beijing by 'owning' the South China Sea and rather upsetting its neighbours in the process. Just as Moscow was placed under sanctions led by the United States and NATO, so is Beijing being confronted by American warships in a convincing display of international free passage.

Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam are somewhat less than impressed with the reality of Chinese fishermen with Chinese coast guard vessels in their wake, venturing huge distances from their shores to enter close to the shorelines of nations whose proximity to the surrounding waters are not contrived, but natural. Brute size and strength augmented by the authority of command equal maritime dominance.

Captain Chen has a costly satellite-navigation system supplied to him by the government of China. He states that it is his right to fish around the disputed Spratly Islands. It is where the catches are supremely improved over China's inshore waters, sadly depleted. About a hundred Chinese fishing boats accompanied by a Chinese coast guard vessel appeared off the shore of Malaysia, 800 nautical miles from China's Hainan.

A Chinese ship supplying fuel to Chinese fishing boats off the coast of Vietnam was seized by that country in early April. On March 20, Indonesian officials boarded a Chinese fishing vessel that turned up close to Indonesia's Natuna Islands. While an Indonesian vessel towed the boat to shore, a Chinese coast guard ship rammed the fishing boat, pushing it back into the South China Sea, forcing the Indonesians to release the tow line.

Not incidentally, China's expanding fish export industry is already the world's largest.

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