China is vowing strict enforcement of its annual summer fishing ban in parts of the contested South China Sea. The ban began Friday and is likely to be opposed by other claimant nations.
The three-and-a-half-month ban, aimed at conserving fish stocks, extends into an area of the South China Sea up to the 12th parallel. That means China demands foreign fishing vessels not participate in any activities in and around the Paracel Islands and Scarborough Shoal – parts of the South China Sea that Vietnam and the Philippines also claim.
In past years, both Vietnam and the Philippines have rejected China’s right to enforce a fishing ban over the area. Last year, the Philippines did not comment on the ban directly, in a departure from the norm.
China has not arrested any fishermen from either country in the past for violating its unilaterally declared ban. It has arrested Chinese fishing vessels that have violated it, though. This year, the China Coast Guard (CCG) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs have announced a campaign to more strictly enforce the ban – increasing the pace of maritime patrols and promising a “crackdown” on illegal activities.
“The coast guard authority will strictly enforce the ban according to relevant laws and regulations, cracking down on crimes and unlawful acts, to safeguard the rights and interests of marine fisheries and protect the marine ecological environment,” state-run Xinhua news agency said Friday.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture and the coast guard, the annual fishing ban outlaws any fishing “within China’s jurisdiction” – a phrasing intended to apply to both foreign and Chinese vessels.
The ban comes as China’s National People’s Congress is drafting a revision to the country’s law governing the People’s Armed Police (PAP), China’s paramount police and paramilitary force. Under the proposed revision, the PAP has expanded duties for maritime law enforcement, protecting China’s rights to its sea territories, and maritime intelligence. The PAP is no longer responsible for disaster response functions like fire-fighting under the revision, too.
The PAP was previously reshuffled and put under China’s Central Military Commission alongside armed forces like the People’s Liberation Army Navy and People’s Liberation Army Air Force in 2017, and the CCG was placed under the People’s Armed Police in 2018. The revision will likely codify these organizational changes for the first time.
China says it enacts the fishing ban annually to preserve fishing stocks in its territorial waters, a sustainability practice. Nonetheless, China is one of the worst sources of illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing in the region, according to the 2019 IUU Fishing Index. China is also not a member of the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center, the main intergovernmental organization in Southeast Asia devoted to fisheries protection and sustainable development. Both Vietnam and the Philippines are members.
The fishing ban will run from May 1 to Aug 16.
It follows the recent Chinese announcement of two new administrative districts that it says will oversee a vast swath of the South China Sea, including areas claimed by other nations.
On Thursday, the Philippines “strongly” protested the move, calling it a violation of Philippine sovereignty.