US report flags China’s fishing ban in disputed sea

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CHINA’S ANNUAL moratorium on commercial fishing in waters it claims, including the disputed South China Sea where the Philippines has sovereign rights, “bear(s) watching closely,” considering the “sometimes-violent” incidents in the course of that ban’s enforcement, a US think tank said.

In a report dated July 7, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) of Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies said the fishing moratorium must be closely monitored as its expiration next month nears.

China has been imposing a unilateral ban each year since 1995 that covers both Chinese and foreign fishermen. On May 1, Beijing enforced the moratorium on waters it claims, including the South China Sea.

This year’s fishing ban applies to resource-rich Scarborough Shoal, a traditional fishing zone among Filipino fishermen and well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. The fishing embargo in the area will end on August 16.

While presenting a tracker of incidents from 2012 to 2017, the Washington-based think tank concluded that each year the fishing pause “sparks anger among China’s neighbors and feeds into the cycle of tensions between regional law enforcement and fishing fleets.”

AMTI also flagged what it called “sparse” reporting on the moratorium’s enforcement, adding that this could be caused by hesitation on the part of rival claimants like the Philippines and Vietnam to report on it.

“Reporting on its implementation has so far been sparse, though it is unclear if that is because Beijing is taking a gentler approach amid its current charm offensive or because regional states, particularly the Philippines and Vietnam, have been hesitant to report on incidents,” the think tank said.

“But the historical trend suggests that the ban, and its rescinding in August, bear watching closely,” it added.

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