Explanations for China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea usually focus on the strategic significance of the waterway, through which US$5 trillion (RM25.4 trillion) in ship-borne trade passes each year, or Beijing’s goal to increase its offshore oil and gas output.
Rarely mentioned is the importance of seafood to the Chinese diet, several experts said.
A 2014 report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), for example, said China’s per-capita fish consumption was 35.1kg in 2010, nearly double the global average of 18.9kg.
“Fish products are just so critical to China’s way of life. I think this is something most people haven’t factored into the equation when they’ve looked at these conflicts and disputes,” said Alan Dupont, a professor of international security at the University of New South Wales in Australia.
“It’s pretty clear that the Chinese fishing fleet is being encouraged to fish in disputed waters. I think that’s now become policy as distinct from an opportunistic thing, and that the government is encouraging its fishing fleet to do this for geopolitical as well as economic and commercial reasons.”