Assessment of the Threat to Southeast Asia Posed by Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported Fishing

Blake Herzinger is a private-sector maritime security advisor assisting the U.S. Pacific Fleet in implementation and execution of the Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative and Pacific Command-wide maritime security efforts.  He served in the United States Navy as an intelligence officer in Singapore, Japan, Italy, and exotic Jacksonville, Florida.  His writing has appeared in Proceedings, CIMSEC and The Diplomat.  He can be found on Twitter @BDHerzinger.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of any official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group. 


Title:  Assessment of the Threat to Southeast Asia Posed by Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported Fishing

Date Originally Written:  September 24, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  November 27, 2017.

Summary:  Regional conflict brews in Southeast Asia as states vie for access to fish stocks and, increasingly, rely on Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (IUUF) to meet national requirements.  IUUF risks the collapse of targeted fish stocks, destroys the maritime environment, degrades internal security, and brings national security forces into increasingly-escalatory encounters.

Text:  Over one billion residents of the Asia-Pacific rely upon fish as their primary source of protein, and the fish stocks of the region are under a relentless assault[1].  Current estimates place IUUF at between 11 and 26 million metric tons (MMT) yearly (total legal capture is approximately 16.6 MMT yearly), with an estimated value loss to regional economies of $10-23.5 billion[2][3].  Over a 25 year period, fish stocks in the South China Sea have declined anywhere from 6 to 33 percent, with some falling as much as 40 percent over the last 5 years.  In 2015, at least 490 million people in Southeast Asia lived in chronic hunger, with millions of children throughout the region stunted due to malnutrition[4].

Illegal fishing’s pernicious by-product is the critical damage done to the maritime environment by those flouting fishery regulations.  As large fish become more scarce as a result of industrial-scale overfishing, smaller-scale fishermen turn to dangerous and illegal practices to catch enough fish to survive.  Blast fishing obliterates coral reefs and kills indiscriminately, but despite prohibitions continues at a rate of nearly 10,000 incidents a day in Philippines alone[5].  Cyanide fishing is also still widespread, despite being banned in several Southeast Asian countries.  Used to stun fish for live capture (for aquariums or regionally popular live fish restaurants), cyanide contributes to the devastation of coral reefs across the SCS.  Giant clam poaching also has deleterious effects on reefs across the region as poachers race to feed Chinese demand for these shellfish.  Reefs throughout the Coral Triangle are interdependent, relying on one another for pollination, and as the reefs are destroyed by poachers seeking short-term gains, or even by small fishermen eking out a subsistence lifestyle, the effects of collapse ripple outward across the region.  The region is approaching an inflection point at which the damage will be irreparable.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC), which accounts for one-third of global fish consumption and is the world’s largest seafood exporter, fittingly leads the way in aggressively protecting its fishing fleets with an overwhelmingly powerful coast guard that dwarfs any other maritime law enforcement body in Asia[6][7].  As IUUF and environmental destruction cut into maritime resources and competition for those increasingly scarce resources escalates, national maritime law enforcement and naval forces are being rapidly expanded and widely deployed to protect natural resources and domestic fishing fleets.  If unmanaged, the friction generated by these fleets’ increasing interaction could easily explode into violent conflict.

For many countries in the region, the state’s legitimacy rests largely upon its ability to provide access to basic necessities and protect its citizens’ livelihoods.  Tens of millions across East Asia and Southeast Asia depend on fisheries for employment and, in many cases, their survival.  Should fish stocks begin to fail, regional states’ foundations will be threatened.  The combination of inadequate food supply and loss of livelihood could reasonably be expected to spur civil unrest.  In a state such as Indonesia, where 54 percent of the population relies on fish as its primary animal protein, historically weak institutions and propensity for military intervention only amplify the potential consequences of food insecurity.  In the PRC, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) actively encourages illegal fishing to provide its 1.379 billion people with the fish, seafood and marine products that its lower-and-middle-class, as well as elites, expect.  Legitimacy of the CCP, at least in part, is dependent on the continued production of regional fisheries and desire to buttress its legitimacy will continue to drive this vicious cycle.

The above mentioned calamities can occur in isolation, but they are most often interlinked.  For instance, in the infamous 2012 Scarborough Shoal incident, Philippines maritime law enforcement boarded a PRC fishing boat that had been engaged in giant clam and shark poaching, as well as coral reef destruction.  Armed PRC maritime law enforcement vessels intervened and sparked an external dispute that continues in 2017[8].  Ensuing flame wars between Filipino and Chinese hackers and economic measures enacted by the PRC against the Philippines threatened stability in both the domestic and international spheres of both countries.  The threat posed by IUUF is not just about fish, its direct and follow-on effects have the potential to drag Southeast Asia into disastrous conflict.


Endnotes:

[1] Till, G. (2013). Seapower: a guide for the 21st century. London: Routledge Ltd.

[2] Caputo, J. (2017). A Global Fish War is Coming. Proceedings, 143(8), 1,374. Retrieved October 10, 2017, from https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2017-08/global-fish-war-coming

[3] One of the World’s Biggest Fisheries Is on The Verge of Collapse. (2017, August 02). Retrieved October 25, 2017, from https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/08/wildlife-south-china-sea-overfishing-threatens-collapse/

[4] Asia-Pacific region achieves Millennium Development Goal to reduce hunger by half by 2015. (2015, May 28). Retrieved October 25, 2017, from http://www.fao.org/asiapacific/news/detail-events/en/c/288506/

[5] Guy, A. (n.d.). Local Efforts Put a Dent in Illegal Dynamite Fishing in the Philippines. Retrieved October 25, 2017, from http://oceana.org/blog/local-efforts-put-dent-illegal-dynamite-fishing-philippines

[6] Jacobs, A. (2017, April 30). China’s Appetite Pushes Fisheries to the Brink. Retrieved October 25, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/30/world/asia/chinas-appetite-pushes-fisheries-to-the-brink.html

[7] Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy (Rep.). (2015, August 14). Retrieved https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/NDAA%20A-P_Maritime_SecuritY_Strategy-08142015-1300-FINALFORMAT.PDF

[8] Are Maritime Law Enforcement Forces Destabilizing Asia? (n.d.). Retrieved October 25, 2017, from https://csis-ilab.github.io/cpower-viz/csis-china-sea/

Assessment Papers Blake Herzinger Environmental Factors Resource Scarcity South China Sea Southeast Asia

U.S. Options for the People’s Republic of China’s Maritime Militias

Blake Herzinger served in the United States Navy in Singapore, Japan, Italy, and exotic Jacksonville, Florida.  He is presently employed by Booz Allen Hamilton and assists the U.S. Pacific Fleet in implementation and execution of the Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative.  His writing has appeared in Proceedings and The Diplomat.  He can be found on Twitter @BDHerzinger.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of any official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group. 


National Security Situation:  People’s Republic of China (PRC) Maritime Militias operating in the East China Sea (ECS) and South China Sea (SCS).

Date Originally Written:  February 21, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  April 6, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  Author believes in freedom of navigation and maintenance of good order at sea in accordance with customary and written law of the sea.  The article is written from the point of view of U.S. sea services leadership toward countering PRC maritime irregulars at sea.

Background:  The PRC employs irregular militia forces at sea alongside naval and maritime law enforcement units.  By deploying these so-called “blue hulls” manned by un-uniformed (or selectively-uniformed) militiamen, the PRC presses its maritime claims and confronts foreign sea services within a “gray zone[1].”  In keeping with national traditions of People’s War, PRC Maritime Militias seek advantage through asymmetry, while opposing competitors whose rules of engagement are based on international law.  The PRC Maritime Militia participated in several of the most provocative PRC acts in the SCS, including the 2009 USNS Impeccable incident, the seizure of Scarborough Shoal in 2012, and the 2014 China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) 981 confrontation with Vietnam that also involved the smaller Vietnam Maritime Militia[2].

Significance:  On its surface, employing irregular forces may be an attractive option for a state facing a more powerful opponent, or for a state interested in “a less provocative means of promoting its strategic goal of regional hegemony” such as the PRC[3].  However, incorporating these irregular forces into a hybrid national strategy has deleterious impacts on the structure of the international legal system, particularly in maritime law and the laws of naval warfare[4].  PRC Maritime Militias’ use of “civilian” fishing vessels to support, and conduct, military operations distorts this legal structure by obfuscating the force’s identity and flaunting established international legal boundaries.

Option #1:  U.S. political and military leaders engage the PRC/People’s Liberation Army (Navy) (PLAN) directly and publicly on the existence and operations of the Maritime Militia, insist upon adherence to internationally-accepted legal identification of vessels and personnel[6], and convey what costs will be imposed on the PRC/PLAN if they do not change their behavior.

As an example, the Commander U.S. Pacific Fleet, Admiral Scott Swift, has voiced his frustration with PLAN unwillingness to acknowledge the existence of the PRC Maritime Militia and its relationships with state law enforcement and military forces[5].  In the event that the PRC declines to engage in dialogue regarding the Maritime Militia, discontinuing PLAN participation in the Rim of the Pacific exercise is the suggested response.

Risk:  Without clearly attaching costs to continued use of militia forces in operations against the USN, Option #1 is unlikely to affect PRC behavior.  Conveying possible imposed costs carries risk of further-degrading relations between the U.S. and PRC, but it is precisely PRC perceptions of their behavior as costless that encourages the behaviors exhibited by the PRC’s Maritime Militia[7].

Gain:  Option #1 is an excellent opportunity for the U.S. to underline its commitment to good order at sea and a rules-based maritime order.  By encouraging the PRC to acknowledge the Maritime Militia and its associated command structure, the U.S. can cut through the ambiguity and civilian camouflage under which the Maritime Militia has operated unchallenged.  In the event that the PRC declines to engage, conveying the possible imposition of costs may serve as a warning that behavior negatively affecting good order at sea will not be tolerated indefinitely.

Option #2:  U.S. Pacific Command’s Joint Interagency Task Force West (JIATF-W) assists the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in developing and implementing an organic maritime domain awareness (MDA) capability with domestic, and international, interagency sharing and response capability.  For the purposes of this article, MDA will be understood to be a host-nation’s ability to “collect, fuse, analyze and disseminate maritime data, information and intelligence relating to potential threats to [its] security, safety, economy or environment[8].”

Risk:  Close to a score of abandoned information portals and sharing infrastructures have been tried and failed in Southeast Asia, a cautionary tale regarding the risk of wasted resources.  Building upon over 20 years of JIATF-W’s experience should help to mitigate this risk, so long as an MDA solution is developed cooperatively and not simply imposed upon ASEAN.

Gain:  By providing focused and long-term support to an ASEAN-led solution, the U.S. can make progress in an area where MDA has been plagued by reticence, and occasionally inability to share vital information across interagency and national borders.  Shared awareness and cooperation at sea will combat the ability of the PRC Maritime Militia to operate uncontested in the SCS by enabling more effective law enforcement and naval response by affected countries.  Working through existing regional institutions such as Singapore’s Information Fusion Centre would add increased value to Option #2.

Option #3:  Utilize U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) to provide law enforcement and maritime safety training support to states bordering the ECS/SCS interested in creating their own maritime militias.

Risk:  Expanding a concept that is damaging the rules-based order may increase the rate of disintegration of good order at sea.  Any observable indication that the U.S. is encouraging the creation of irregular maritime forces would likely be viewed negatively by the PRC.  Option #3 carries risk of engendering diplomatic or military conflict between the U.S. and PRC, or between the PRC and U.S. partners.

Gain:  Option #3 might provide some level of parity for states facing PRC militia vessels.  Vietnam has already made the decision to pursue development of a maritime militia and others may follow in hopes of countering the PRC’s irregular capability.  USCG involvement in the organizational development and training of militias might provide some limited opportunities to shape their behavior and encourage responsible employment of militia forces.

Other Comments:  Encouragement for the expansion of the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) is not addressed.  The CUES  was adopted during the 2014 Western Pacific Naval Symposium (WPNS) and provides a basis for communications, maritime safety, and maneuvering guidelines for use by ships and aircraft in unplanned encounters at sea.  CUES is not a legally binding document, but an agreed-upon protocol for managing potentially escalatory encounters in the Pacific[9].  This author believes coast guards adjoining the contested areas of the ECS and SCS will continue to resist CUES adoption in order to maintain operational latitude.  Given the reticence of coast guards to accede to the agreement, drawing PRC Maritime Militia into CUES seems an unrealistic possibility.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  The South China Sea’s Third Force: Understanding and Countering China’s Maritime Militia, Hearings on Seapower and Projection Forces in the South China Sea, Before the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, 114th Cong., 1 (2016)(Statement of Andrew S. Erickson, U.S. Naval War College). http://docs.house.gov/meetings/AS/AS28/20160921/105309/HHRG-114-AS28-Wstate-EricksonPhDA-20160921.pdf

[2]  Conor M. Kennedy and Andrew S. Erickson, “Model Maritime Militia: Tanmen’s Leading Role in the April 2012 Scarborough Shoal Incident,” CIMSEC, 21 April 2016, http://cimsec.org/model-maritime-militia-tanmens-leading-role-april-2012-scarborough-shoal-incident/24573

[3]  James Kraska and Michael Monti, “The Law of Naval Warfare and China’s Maritime Militia,” International Law Studies 91.450 (2015): 465, http://stockton.usnwc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi

[4]  Ibid.

[5]  Christopher Cavas, “China’s Maritime Militia a Growing Concern,” DefenseNews, November 21, 2016,  http://www.defensenews.com/articles/new-website-will-allow-marines-to-share-training-videos

[6]  The South China Sea’s Third Force: Understanding and Countering China’s Maritime Militia, Hearings on Seapower and Projection Forces in the South China Sea Before the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, 114th Cong., 1 (2016)(Statement of Andrew S. Erickson, U.S. Naval War College). http://docs.house.gov/meetings/AS/AS28/20160921/105309/HHRG-114-AS28-Wstate-EricksonPhDA-20160921.pdf

[7]  The Struggle for Law in the South China Sea, Hearings on Seapower and Projection Forces in the South China Sea Before the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, 114th Cong., 1 (2016) (Statement of James Kraska, U.S. Naval War College).

[8]  Secretary of the Navy Approves Strategic Plan for Maritime Domain Awareness, U.S. Navy, Last updated 8 October 2015, http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp? story_id=91417

[9]  Document: Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, USNI News, Last updated 22 August 2016, https://news.usni.org/2014/06/17/document-conduct-unplanned-encounters-sea

Association of Southeast Asian Nations Blake Herzinger China (People's Republic of China) Irregular Forces Maritime Option Papers South China Sea United States

Options for Singapore in the South China Sea

Blake Herzinger served in the United States Navy in Singapore, Japan, Italy, and exotic Jacksonville, Florida.  He is presently employed by Booz Allen Hamilton and assists the U.S. Pacific Fleet in implementation and execution of the Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative.  His writing has appeared in Proceedings and The Diplomat.  He can be found on Twitter @BDHerzinger. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of any official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group. 


National Security Situation:  Singapore’s outlook on the South China Sea (SCS) dispute.

Date Originally Written:  January 13, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  March 13, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  Author believes in freedom of navigation and maintenance of good order at sea in accordance with the customary and written law of the sea.  This article is written from the point of view of Singapore toward the SCS dispute.

Background:  Conflicting territorial claims, as well as opposing interpretations of entitlements provided by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), have heightened tensions throughout the SCS.  The maritime order protected by decades of U.S. Navy engagement is being actively challenged by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which seeks a reorganization of the order without U.S. primacy.  Singapore sits astride the most critical sea-lane in Asia leading into the partially-enclosed SCS, but is not itself a claimant state in the myriad of disputes.  Singapore does have a vested interest in the peaceful and successful rise of its leading trade partner, the PRC, as well as a critical interest in continued deep engagement in the Pacific by its closest defense partner, the U.S.  Although Singapore’s population is nearly 75% ethnic Chinese, the microstate has made every effort to chart an independent, pragmatic course in foreign policy.  However, the PRC has recently increased pressure on Singapore to stay out of the debate on the SCS[1].

Significance:  Freedom of the seas is an “economically existential issue” for Singapore[2].  The rules-based order underpinned by freedom of navigation, and adherence to the UNCLOS, provided decades of economic growth and success in the region, particularly for Singapore.  However, the PRC’s desire to force a reorganization of the maritime order is directly resulting in erosion of accepted international maritime law and the PRC’s resultant conflicts with the U.S. and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) casts a shadow of doubt over the economic future of the region.  For Singapore, the outcome of the SCS dispute(s) may determine its entire economic future.

Option #1:  Singapore continues advocacy for freedom of navigation and pursuit of friendly relations with the U.S. and the PRC, while maintaining a policy of non-alignment.

Risk:  An increasingly powerful PRC constricts the diplomatic space for middle powers trapped between itself and the U.S., as evidenced in the PRC’s behavior toward Singapore over the past year.  The seizure of Singaporean Armed Forces Terrex vehicles in Hong Kong, recent inflammatory language published in China’s Global Times, and ominous warnings by the PRC that smaller states “need not and should not take sides among big countries,” are overt signaling to Singapore to avoid any position contrary to Chinese interests in the SCS[3][4][5].  More plainly, Singapore will suffer consequences if it is seen to side with the U.S.  Despite efforts to balance diplomatically, Singapore’s reliance on freedom of navigation will inevitably lead to confrontation regarding PRC activities in the SCS and, without a Great Power ally, Singapore may be left vulnerable to PRC pressure.

Gain:  In 51 years of statehood Singapore has achieved both the strongest economy in Southeast Asia and the most advanced military.  In this option’s best-case scenario, Singapore would continue to reap the benefits of partnership with both the PRC and the U.S. without either side trying to force the microstate to the sidelines, or into opposition with the other.

Option #2:  Singapore directs support for the PRC’s positions in the SCS.  Singapore could decouple itself from its defense relationship with the U.S. and effectively capitulate to Chinese demands.

Risk:  The opacity of the PRC’s goals for the SCS is the largest risk.  If the PRC succeeds in becoming the dominant power in the area, will freedom of navigation and free trade be protected, or restricted?  Unless Singapore knows the answer to this question, the existential risk posed to Singapore’s future would be catastrophic in scale.  Even if the PRC encourages free trade, by aligning itself with the PRC Singapore stands to lose its reputation for independence, undermining its trusted position as an honest broker and neutral place of business.

Domestic repercussions would be equally damaging.  Singapore’s population may be predominantly Chinese, but it is a multiethnic society with codified policies of racial equality, with the stated ideal that citizens see themselves as Singaporean rather than identifying by their ethic group.  Minority groups would almost certainly interpret a swing toward the PRC as the end of the meticulously guarded Singaporean identity standing as a bulwark against the racial discord that spurred race riots in Singapore’s infancy[6].

As a small, predominantly Chinese state between two large Muslim states historically suspicious of its defense policies, Singapore would also be inviting new friction with Malaysia and Indonesia by appearing to swing toward the PRC.  Furthermore, Singapore would likely lose high-level military training opportunities with the U.S., as well as unilateral training opportunities its forces enjoy on U.S. soil.

Siding with the PRC would significantly degrade the ASEAN structure by departing from the official non-alignment of the organization.  This would be a significant victory for Beijing, which has previously succeeded in driving wedges through ASEAN, but not with a country as vital to the group as Singapore.

Gain:  In the short-term, the PRC would likely reward Singapore for its obedience, possibly in the form of cessation of public castigation, as well as increased economic cooperation.  Should the PRC’s goals include regulation and control of the SCS, Singapore might find itself a beneficiary of PRC largesse as a state that did not block its ambitions.

Option #3:  Singapore begins actively participating in freedom of navigation operations, either unilaterally or multilaterally.

Risk:  Option #3 is the most likely to elicit retaliatory measures from the PRC, where the government would almost certainly interpret the action as siding with the U.S..

Gain:  Option #3 would first and foremost provide reinforcement to the freedom of navigation upon which Singapore itself depends.  Additionally, it could serve to combat the Chinese narrative of U.S. containment, instead highlighting the fact that the PRC’s unilateral actions have taken place “against the rights and freedoms of the international community [7].”

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  United States Central Intelligence Agency (2017). The World Factbook – Singapore. Retrieved 15 January, 2017, from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/ geos/sn.html

[2]  Sim, W. (2015, March 5). Freedom of navigation vital to S’pore. The Straits Times. Retrieved from http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/freedom-of-navigation-key-to-spore-shanmugam

[3]  Ping, C.K. (2016, November 25). China comments on Singapore armored vehicles. The Straits Times. Retrieved from http://www.thejakartapost.com/seasia/ 2016/11/25/ china-comments-on-singapore-armored-vehicles-and-equipment-seized.html

[4]  Loh, S. (2016). Full Text of Ambassador Stanley Loh’s Letter to Global Times Editor-In-Chief Hu Xijin, in response to an article by Global Times (Chinese) dated 21 September 2016. Retrieved from Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs website: https://www.mfa.gov.sg/content/mfa/media_centre/press_room/ pr/2016/ 201609/full-text-of-ambassador-stanley-loh-s-letter-to-global-times-edi.html

[5]  The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China. (2017). China’s Policies on Asia-Pacific Security Cooperation. Retrieved from http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2017-01/11/c_135973695.htm

[6]  Han, J (n.d.). Communal riots of 1964. In Singapore Infopedia. Retrieved from http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_45_2005-01-06.html

[7]  The Struggle for Law in the South China Sea: Hearings before the Seapower and Projection Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, House of Representatives, 114th Cong. 11 (2016) (Testimony of James Kraska).

Blake Herzinger China (People's Republic of China) Maritime Option Papers Singapore South China Sea