World View: China’s South China Sea Policy Related to Food Security in Times of War

Filipino and Vietnamese protesters display anti-China placards and Vietnamese national fla

This morning’s key headlines from

  • Vietnam protests China’s fishing ban in the South China Sea
  • China’s fishing ban related to food security in times of war
  • North Korea fires four ballistic missiles into sea near Japan

Vietnam protests China’s fishing ban in the South China Sea

Chinese fishing fleet in the South China Sea (Hakai Magazine)
Chinese fishing fleet in the South China Sea (Hakai Magazine)

China, whose claim of sovereignty over the South China Sea has been declared illegal by the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in the Hague, has imposed a fishing ban on the North China Sea, including regions that are in the exclusive economic zones and historical fishing grounds of Vietnam and the Philippines. China’s announced ban begins on May 1 and ends on August 16.

The South China Sea is estimated to hold 11 billion barrels of oil, 109 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 10 percent of the world’s fisheries. Furthermore, 30% of the world’s shipping trade flows through the South China Sea.

Vietnam’s foreign ministry spokesman said, “Vietnam resolutely opposes and rejects the regulation issued by China.” Vietnam will dispatch fisheries surveillance ships across its territorial waters, focusing on areas where China has issued its fishing ban. The fisheries surveillance ships will protect and assist Vietnamese fishermen in these areas.

News reports do not indicate what form this protection will take. China has blocked other nations from fishing in their traditional fishing grounds by using armed coast guard vessels, and ramming fishing boats or threatening military action. It’s not known whether Vietnam’s fisheries surveillance ships will be armed, and whether there will be a possibility of a military confrontation that could escalate.

According to reports last year, Vietnam is deploying mobile rocket launchers on five of its bases in the Spratly Islands, in order to confront China. VN Express (Vietnam) and AP and VN Express

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China’s fishing ban related to food security in times of war

For years, China’s has had a goal of food self-sufficiency, but with 20% of the world’s population, but only 9% of the world’s arable land, this kind of food security has always been out of reach. Thus, while China’s grain production has increased by 44% between 2003 and 2015, its grain imports (including soybeans) during the same period skyrocketed by nearly 400%, indicating that growth in domestic grain production is unable to keep up with population growth.

The history of agriculture in the 68 years of the People’s Republic of China has been dismal. The worst episode was the Great Leap Forward in 1958-59, a man-made famine where Mao Zedong killed tens of millions of people through starvation, slaughter, and executions. In the past 30 years, China has achieved a remarkable increase in grain productivity, but that achievement was accomplished through overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides coupled with intensive farming practices that have contributed to severe degradation of land quality, and an even larger scale of land pollution. Today, China’s agricultural sector is dominated by hundreds of millions of small household farms, low and inefficient management at the rural level, and severe corruption of local government officials. In addition, China is facing a water crisis, with China’s agriculture using two-thirds of the country’s water resources.

According to the International Public Policy (IPP) organization in Singapore, China should abandon its tight control over agricultural resources, and resort to using the global agricultural market, as other countries do.

However, the IPP points out that this will be insufficient “in times of war (a full-scale war with the United States or other big countries) which leads to the total collapse of the global food markets,” and will have to take further steps to prepare for war with the U.S. or other countries:

To prepare for the worst case scenario, the Chinese government needs: 1) to maintain sufficient strategic food reserves which can meet the country’s food needs based on subsistence consumption levels during the period that new food products are produced; 2) protect key agricultural resources, particularly arable land and fresh water so as to develop agricultural potential which can be quickly utilized to produce enough food for the country in times of war.

Control of the South China Sea is important to China not only for its energy deposits but for food security – depending on massive amounts of fish from the SCS to supplement its agricultural output, especially in case of war.

However, China’s huge fleets of fishing boats have overfished the SCS, and have depleted a number of species. Thus, food security is at the heart of China’s demands for a moratorium on fishing in the South China Sea from May 1 to August 16.

However, China’s is also using military means to enforce its moratorium on other countries, notably Vietnam and the Philippines. Vietnam is making its own military preparations to confront the Chinese, as described above.

In the case of the Philippines, access to fish has become a bargaining chip. Last fall, Philippines president Rodrigo R. Duterte announced a cutoff of relations with the United States, and also announced that the relationship with the U.S. would be replaced by a relationship with China. As a result of that agreement with China, Philippines fishermen were once again permitted to fish in the country’s traditional fishing grounds around Scarborough Shoal.

Nonetheless, the Philippines military still has close ties with the U.S. military, and several Philippines ministers are expressing alarm that China might military the Scarborough Shoal, and gain military control of the entire South China Sea. International Public Policy Review and Jamestown and Hakai Magazine (Canada)

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North Korea fires four ballistic missiles into sea near Japan

As I’m writing this article on Sunday evening (ET), North Korea has launched four ballistic missiles into Japanese waters, once again in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

Once again, this is a new embarrassment to China. This is particularly true right now, as China’s National People’s Congress is in session, during which China’s leaders are undoubtedly giving speeches condemning South Korea’s decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) antimissile system, which China hates. Thus, these missile launches can only be seen as a message that North Korea’s child dictator Kim Jong-un is sending to China, presumably to get revenge for China’s decision to halt coal imports from North Korea.

Once again, North Korea’s child dictator Kim Jong-un is a major problem for the Chinese government, and sooner or later China may decide to do something about it. Reuters and Yonhap News (Seoul)

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KEYS: Generational Dynamics, China, Vietnam, South China Sea, Spratly Islands, United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration, PCA, Mao Zedong, Great Leap Forward, Philippines, Scarborough Shoal, Rodrigo R. Duterte, North Korea, South Korea, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, THAAD
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