China is using its world’s largest fishing fleet as surrogate Navy

Adam Pasick reports for Defense One, July 28, 2014, that China has the world’s largest commercial fishing fleet, totaling 695,555 vessels. That fleet is more than double the size (pdf, pg. 36) of the next biggest, from Japan. That’s primarily because China eats a lot of fish per capita, and catches more fish than any other country in the world by a huge margin.

But it’s not just about keeping Chinese bellies full. According to an excellent in-depth report from Reuters, Beijing is increasingly equipping fishing boats with geolocation devices, filling them up with subsidized fuel, and dispatching them to the disputed waters of the South China Sea, where they are clashing with rival fishermen from Vietnam and the Philippines.

When China stationed an oil rig near the Paracel Islands in May, provoking violent anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam, Chinese fishing boats were part of the ad hoc armada protecting the rig (which was later withdrawn). At one point a Chinese fishing vessel rammed and sunk one of its Vietnamese counterparts (paywall), according to video evidence published by Hanoi.

South China Sea

“It’s pretty clear that the Chinese fishing fleet is being encouraged to fish in disputed waters,” Alan Dupont, a professor of international security at the University of New South Wales in Australia, told Reuters. “I think that’s now become policy as distinct from an opportunistic thing, and that the government is encouraging its fishing fleet to do this for geopolitical as well as economic and commercial reasons.”

China has laid claim to about 90% of the South China Sea, most notably the tiny island chains know as the Spratlys and Paracels, which are claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam, respectively, along with many other countries in the region. The disputes encompasses issues of sovereignty and energy exploration, but it’s also about fishing rights. And as China’s near coastal waters become increasingly over-fished, its vast armada of fishing boats will have to travel even further to fill their nets, to sate their countrymen’s ever-growing hunger for seafood.

By 2030, the UN projects that China’s fish consumption will increase more than 60% from 2008 levels, to 57.4 million tonnes (63.3 million tons)—more than a third of the global total (pdf, pg. 205).

See also:

~StMA

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3 responses to “China is using its world’s largest fishing fleet as surrogate Navy

  1. A. James Gregor

    The issues surrounding China’s claims of sovereignty over the islands (cays and sandbars) of the South China Sea involve more than fishing rights. There are anticipated deep sea resources (oil, gas, and minerals) associated with the “exclusive economic zones” entailed in acknowledged sovereignty. Other than that, critical sea lines of communication thread through the region. Any power that controls those sea lines controls, to a significant extent the seaborne commerce of a number of very important nations — including Japan and South Korea. Any maritime power capable of controlling the flow of water borne traffic through the region influences insurance costs and increases the transit time for cargo from source to port–significantly increasing export and import costs. Chinese fishing boats contribute to the PLA Navy’s capabilities of controlling the entire area. Another element in China’s program of regional dominance.

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  2. Sounds like a Trojan Horse set up. Yet the sad Irony is that the good ol USA government and corporate and consumer is enabling a predator enemy by filling their coffers of mega millions of dollars. This is beyond subtle. This nation needs a true cage fighter American patriot to restore our empty chair.

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