The United States considers coalition with South America against China’s illegal fishing

The United States should consider leading a multilateral coalition with South American nations to tackle China’s illegal trade and fishing practices, a US intelligence agency recommended in a document obtained by Axios.

Because it is important: China’s illegal fishing industry is the largest in the world. Beijing has made distant-water fishing a geopolitical priority, viewing China’s private fishing fleets as a way to extend state power beyond its shores.

  • A senior US administration official confirmed to Axios that various government agencies are “looking at this in light of the president’s priorities,” which include “deepening cooperation with allies and partners on the challenges we face to our economy and national security. “. ”

What’s going on: Huge fleets of hundreds of Chinese vessels have had vessels fishing illegally in the territorial waters of South American countries, including off the Galapagos Islands.

  • The activity has depleted populations and disrupted food chains, in a practice known as Illegal, Unreported, or Unregulated (IUU) fishing.
  • South American nations say these fleets are 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 from incursions by Chinese vessels.

Details: “South American countries would likely welcome a coalition effort to increase trade pressure on China and enforce fishing standards,” Office of Intelligence and Analysis officials wrote in a Feb. 5 document labeled sensitive but not. classified.

  • “Unilateral pressure from the United States would likely result in China applying similar sanctions, just as Beijing did in enacting a new law to counter US restrictions on technology companies,” said those in the bureau, a department intelligence agency. National Security.
  • Several offices and agencies are working together in this effort, including the United States Coast Guard, the Office of Naval Intelligence, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Department of State, according to the document and government sources.

The document evaluated with “high confidence” that Chinese fishing in South American waters would also “cause continuing economic damage to US domestic fisheries as a result of anti-competitive tactics.”

  • He assessed with “medium confidence” that China is likely “to continue exploitative fishing practices in South American waters despite recent actions by governments and an intergovernmental organization to limit these activities.”
  • He also assessed with “medium confidence” that South American countries would welcome a coalition to increase enforcement of fishing regulations.

What they are saying: “There is a lack of understanding of this problem, which is a global problem, that the fisheries are quite stressed,” the senior administration official told Axios.

  • The Trump administration “began to work on the issue of fighting IUU fishing globally on the role of China as it emerged as the biggest perpetrator in this,” the official said, adding that the Biden administration continues to consider this. as a priority.

Background: Former Chinese President Hu Jintao called for China to become a great maritime power and, in 2013, China’s State Council elevated the fishing industry to the level of a strategic industry.

  • The Chinese government provides subsidies to the fishing industry, allowing ships to cover the fuel costs of sailing to distant shores, including those near West Africa and South America.
  • “China’s leaders see distant water fleets as a way to project presence around the world, so when the time comes to establish regulatory frameworks, they will have a great influence on how those frameworks are established,” said Tabitha Mallory , CEO. from the consulting firm China Ocean Institute and an affiliate professor at the University of Washington.
  • The goal is to be “present in all the world’s oceans so that they can direct the results of international agreements that cover maritime resources,” Mallory said, “which include not only fishing, but also seabed mining, Arctic “and other key themes and regions.

The US government has paid more attention to China’s increasingly global deep-sea fishing fleets in recent years.

  • The Maritime Safety and Fisheries Enforcement Act (SAFE), passed 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 American competitiveness in the industry.
  • In September 2020, the State Department added fish caught by China’s distant-water 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 must intervene on these issues as well,” Mallory said. “Anything the United States does on its own will be viewed by the Chinese as simply part of the backdrop of growing energy competition.”


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