Conflicts - TensionsNortheast AsiaSoutheast Asia

PRC’s illegal fishing, aggressive activities continue to draw scrutiny


The People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) increased bullying in the South China Sea comes as the United States, its Allies and Partners proceed with a five-year investment to aid the region’s maritime security and its response to illegal fishing, sovereignty threats and other challenges.

The Quadrilateral (Quad) partnership of Australia, India, Japan and the U.S. announced the multilateral effort in May 2022. The Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA) provides technology and training to “support and work in consultation with Indo-Pacific nations and regional information fusion centers in the Indian Ocean, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands … to promote stability and prosperity in our seas and oceans,” the Quad partners said.

To counter illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, the Quad will provide nations with commercially available ship-tracking data and expand a system to share information about fishing vessels in the region. Coastal states with large maritime exclusive economic zones (EEZ) to patrol will particularly benefit from the IPMDA, the Lowy Institute, an Australia-based think tank, reported in August 2023.

Since the Quad’s announcement, the PRC has stepped up its intimidation tactics, including harassing Philippine vessels resupplying troops stationed at Second Thomas Shoal, also known as Ayungin Shoal, in the disputed South China Sea. Chinese coast guard vessels directed a military-grade laser at a Philippine Coast Guard ship, fired water cannons at a Philippine supply boat and collided with a Philippine Coast Guard vessel, among other incidents.

International law grants coastal states exclusive rights over the use and benefit of the natural resources, including fisheries, in their EEZs, which extend 200 nautical miles. IUU fishing violates those sovereign rights and threatens food security and economic stability globally. Chinese-flagged vessels are the leading perpetrators of IUU fishing, according to a report by Poseidon Aquatic Resource Management and the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.

The illicit activity relies on vulnerable workers and disadvantaged populations who are often lured aboard under duplicitous employment arrangements and trapped for years in conditions where abuse, lack of medical care and malnutrition exacerbate an already dangerous profession.

Members of the U.S. Congress recently highlighted IUU fishing, citing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) 2023 report “Improving International Fisheries Management.”

In an October letter to NOAA Administrator Richard W. Spinrad, members of the House of Representatives’ Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party noted the “PRC’s unwillingness to take corrective action despite years of rampant violations and circumvention of international conservation and management measures.”

The committee members called on the U.S. federal agency to “strongly consider enforcing trade restrictions against the PRC on specific seafood products tainted by forced labor” if Beijing fails to act.

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