Another important factor is behind this week's tiff: China's emergence as a fishing superpower. In a paper last year, the U.S. Naval War College's Lyle Goldstein noted that by 2007, China's annual catch of 17 million tons of fish was four times that of its nearest competitor, and far greater than that of Japan or the U.S.Goldstein's paper essentially argues that since China's local seas are basically fished out and in a state of collapse, China is following a two-pronged strategy of reducing its local fishing fleet while subsidizing its deepwater fishing fleet. The implications for a China whose navy and fishing fleet are both rising are profound:
It boasts some 300,000 motorized fishing vessels, which have been involved in disputes with the U.S. Navy, the Indonesian coast guard and now Japan, and an increasingly aggressive Fisheries Law Enforcement Command, which has itself seized Vietnamese fishing vessels in the South China Sea, straining ties with that country too.
Beyond the potential for dislocations associated with unsustainable fishing practices, there are a number of implications of China’s major role in world fisheries for international security. First, it is quite plausible that Beijing’s wide ranging fishing fleets offer quite extensive opportunities for enhanced “maritime domain awareness” in certain strategically sensitive sea areas, ranging from the Indian Ocean to the Central Pacific. If China adopts a more expansive blue water naval posture in the next decades, with an enlarged presence for in the Indian Ocean and off of Africa’s coasts for example, then these fishing fleets will have been important in developing China’s knowledge base with respect to prevailing local conditions. Second and consistent with the Chinese tendency toward close integration of civil and military institutions, China’s large fishing fleet is already integrated into a maritime militia that could render crucial support in a hypothetical military campaign, whether ferrying troops across the Taiwan Strait or laying mines in distant locations. The sheer number of fishing vessels that could be involved would present a severe challenge to any adversary attempting to counter this strategy. Most importantly, there is the unfortunate potential that a fishing dispute involving loss of life—which happen in East Asian waters with disturbing regularity—could serve as tinder for nationalists on one side or another, provoking actual hostilities between disputing, and well-armed claimants in the region. Finally, there is the strong likelihood that Beijing will continue to use the Chinese strategy of "defeating harshness with kindness" (yi rou ke gang) and thus deploying unarmed fishing vessels or fisheries enforcement vessels to confront foreign vessels operating in its EEZ and claimed waters.Headache on a global scale....
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