Keeping Watch on China’s Maritime Strategy in North Korea

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Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump met with Chinese President Xi Jinping for the first time. While the two agree on the need to strengthen cooperation between the U.S. and China, there are several agenda items that are likely to become contentious, not least of which is North Korea. Trump has accused China of not doing enough to reel in North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.  White House advisors say that behind closed doors Trump is likely to call on China to cut off its financial support, even threatening sanctions. A factor missing from the administration’s calculation is the role of Chinese fishing vessels in North Korean waters, which reveals an added layer of complexity to last week’s meeting.

With a soaring population and a growing middle class hungry for seafood, both as a source of protein and status, China has witnessed increased demand for fish. This demand has depleted Chinese territorial waters, which are overfished by over 30 percent. The Chinese government has long recognized the unsustainable stress that growing demand places on its fisheries. Since 1990, Beijing has attempted to mollify these concerns by instituting moratoriums on fishing during the summer. Despite this restriction, its fishing fleets continue to push the country’s fisheries toward collapse.

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