China’s Un-Neighborly Fishing Ban
Image Credit: Eric Molina

China’s Un-Neighborly Fishing Ban


China has imposed its annual ban on commercial fishing in the South China Sea, but its efforts to preserve and replenish fish stocks have been met with skepticism. Hanoi is particularly irritated, while Manila is biting its tongue, believing the move is simply another form of Chinese bullying.

Vietnam says the ban, from May 16 to August 1, is “invalid”. The Philippines responded with its own ban, allowing a face saving reduction in tensions amid the month-long stand-off with China over Scarborough Shoal.

Neither believe China is genuinely acting in the best interests of food security, and they suspect its ulterior motive is simply to assert itself over the Spratly and Paracel islands, which has increasingly become a regional flashpoint.

Vietnamese and Philippine claims are on the basis of a U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea and a rule that gives maritime nations the right to explore, exploit and develop areas within their 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ).

China insists the overwhelming majority of islands of the South China Sea – also known as the West Philippines Sea and the East Sea in Vietnam – fall under its sovereign jurisdiction despite many of the islands being located within the well defined EEZ territorial limits.

However, it says the EEZ convention doesn’t give maritime nations the right to undermine the sovereignty of other countries, adding the disputed waters have been traditional fishing grounds for Chinese fishermen for centuries.

Vietnam’s foreign ministry labeled the Chinese ban as unilateral, while local media have interviewed fisherman who say they intend to ignore the Chinese ban, first imposed in 1999, promising to set sail for the Paracel Islands and challenge the Chinese ban.

This follows the detention and alleged beating of 20 Vietnamese fishermen seized by Chinese authorities while diving for sea cucumbers near the Paracels in February. A heated diplomatic row followed. Hanoi insisted on an unconditional release while China claimed it had acted legally as the islands are within its sovereign jurisdiction.

Most of the islands are uninhabited but are believed to contain large oil and gas deposits. The fishing grounds are rich and the narrow shipping lanes of strategic importance to commercial and military maritime traffic.

In a bid to limit any confrontation in the disputed seas, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has attempted to find an agreement among its members on the Declaration on the Code of Conduct. which would provide a means for dispute resolutions and limit any escalation in tensions. However, China is unimpressed by the document saying it wants to deal with individual members of ASEAN when it comes to sovereign issues as opposed to a united ASEAN front.

 Still, as Trefor Moss noted last month, ASEAN is drafting a Code of Conduct governing behavior in the South China Sea, and is due to present Beijing with its proposals in July. China will be under diplomatic pressure to accept the ASEAN formula.

China has also indicated it was prepared to escalate the issue if their latest ban is flouted saying through the official Xinhua News Agency that fishing in the waters would be viewed as “blatant encroachment on China’s fishing resources.”

Ominously, the piece declares “Violators will face punishments such as fines, license revocations, confiscations and possible criminal charges, according to a statement issued by the fishery bureau under the MOA.”

August 22, 2012 at 21:23

I find it interesting that you identify the Philippine vessel as a battleship when everyone knw months before they bought it that the USA was selling them a lesser vessel, a coast guard vessel.
The Philippines sent a civilian vessel to stop pirates fishing in thier waters, yet the Chinese govt. claimed it as thier own and invaded Filipino waters. The aggressor was China and they should apologise.
China can't claim to follow the rules of humanity and break them at the same time. (Well, they can but it only makes them look like d**ks).

June 8, 2012 at 00:32

Is PRC a Benevolent Power? Perhaps this question will be best answered by the Tibetans, Taiwanese,Vietnamese, the Filipinos and the Sri Lankan Tamils not to mention the Tiananmen Square Students.

May 26, 2012 at 15:55

LOL Funny, it’s the FACT. The Philippines used battleship first. On Facebook, I saw some Philippines nationalists’ radical and extreme comments saying things such as “Nuke China and make them ashes.” It’s kinda funny because if a nuclear war breaks out, I guess the first one becomes the ash will be those Philippine extremists.

May 24, 2012 at 17:52

@John Chan

how much are they paying you now? 1 dollar?

Major Lowen Gil Marquez, Phil Army
May 21, 2012 at 19:15

The fishing ban is applicable only in mainland communist China because their rivers and waterways were polluted, the fishing ban will not poison the Chinese communist masses that eating their own fish in mainland china.
The Philippine has a own a fishing ban at our Scarborough Shoal located at WESTERN PHILIPPINE SEA because the chine communist military were poaching a world endangered species of fish, corrals and sea plants in the said shoal, the United nation shall look and study about the invasion of Chinese military at the Philippine Scarborough Shoal at WESTERN PHILIPPINE SEA.

Major Lowen Gil Marquez, Phil Army
May 21, 2012 at 19:08

Thats right Sir EyEDRD, communist Chinese communist wanted to invade the whole ocean in South East Asia specially the Scarborough shoal which is inside the WESTERN PHILIPPINE SEA, the communist says diplomacy but they were holding a gun and pointed in our mouth, the Chinese say peace but they were holding a missile pointing to Filipino fisherman at our own country…

May 20, 2012 at 18:01

“a 10-week fishing moratorium will be imposed in the South China Sea area north of 12 degrees north latitude” (China MOA).

Does anybody understand the logic behind the 12° North limit? Fish stock management is a subject where political boundaries do not make any sense. This is an area where ASEAN, under the auspices of FAO, could take the lead to work with China to prevent overfishing in the SCS.

Furthermore, knowing that China is the country with the largest fleet of Distant Water Fishing (DWF), this means that, during the ban in the Northern part, Chinese big fishing vessels will go further South, depleting other countries’ resource.
Un-neighborly is an understatement. Egoistic and unsincere would better describe this ban.

John Chan
May 20, 2012 at 02:35

The only nation uses gunboat in the Scarborough Shoal incident is Philippines, and only people calling for wars uncontrollably are the Filipinos and those people from the predatory imperialist Westpac nations. Please debate issues based on facts not fabrications thru the thin air.

May 19, 2012 at 13:13

China doesn’t want a military conflict as there is no way that it could paint itself in a good light.

It would look nothing more than a great bully stealing its neighbors territory and telling the UN and the International community that it doesn’t care about international agreements. The EEZ.

May 19, 2012 at 11:01

Behind ‘close door’ communications and negotiations are going on, imo.

The rhetoric from both sides frankly represent ‘cross messages’ to each other for both domestic and national consumption.

Bottom line is neither side really wants a war which results in scores of casualties. Jogging for coverage without being labeled ‘selling out’ is key for either side, again imo.

I am looking for announcement if Philex’s meeting in Beijing will result in a Win-Win solution. The existing ‘field in production’ that Philippines gets with western company is 18% of revenue and we heard that VP of Philippines calls for a 50-50% split.

The number between 18 – 50 offers flexibility for both sides.

May 19, 2012 at 10:19

The fish will take what they can.
I’ve noticed that in response to the Chinese ban on fishing the Phillipines has likewise ordered a moratorium on fishing where they and the Chinese had a spat two weeks ago. Both sides are taking time-out basically to cool the situation. This allows for political negotiations between the two countries without provocation by either country’s fishing fleets.

A Straight Talker
May 19, 2012 at 08:55

China has a bad pollution because they have so many manufactories in Beijing and other cities. That’s why, the technology and economy have been growing so fast. Consequently, China needs more land for development and population. Chinese have ability to design and make anything they need.

May 19, 2012 at 08:33

Score one for the fish. They got 2 and half months.

May 19, 2012 at 05:14

I said it before and I will say it again.

If anyone would for a second believe that china is concern about over fishing and the environment, just use Google and look up “china pollution pictures”. There you go, see how china and chinese treat their own country. See how dirty the air, water, and land? See how bad the environment is in china?

See how chinese live in inhuman conditions? Now do you think china is acting as environment protector? If youl think so, I have not one, but several bridges that I would sell to you very cheap. LOL.

May 19, 2012 at 03:16

Unfortunately, China likes to practice the gunboat diplomacy. This has caused a rise in nationalism in China that many want to make wars to own the whole South China Sea.
South China Dispute becomes number one topic of Chinese Social Media: Millions call for blood and wars
Vietnamese fishermen will defy again Chinese imperialistic fishing ban at their own perils

Share your thoughts

Your Name
Your Email
required, but not published
Your Comment

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief