In addition to Hong Kong and the South China seas, the coast of South America is now being impacted by Chinese interests.

Ecuador has expressed concern through diplomatic channels and its navy is on alert for any incursion into Ecuadorian waters after a fleet of 260 Chinese fishing ships anchored off of the environmentally-sensitive Galapagos Islands.

Some call it a floating city, a flotilla of 260 mostly Chinese fishing vessels near the Galapagos archipelago that is stirring diplomatic tension and raising worries about the threat to sharks, manta rays and other vulnerable species in waters around the UNESCO world heritage site.

Yet the vast fleet is in international waters, outside a maritime border around the Galapagos and also outside coastal waters off Ecuador, which controls the archipelago. That means the fleet, one of the biggest seen in years off South America’s Pacific coast, is likely to fish with minimal monitoring until its holds are full.

The Chinese fleet is “very close” to the edge of the exclusive economic zone around the Galapagos, which extends 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) from the archipelago, said its governor, Norman Wray. He said that, because of overfishing in recent years, “what we’re seeing is that each time fewer species return to the Galapagos.”

Luis Villanueva, an officer with the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project, said Thursday that it was possible, though unproven, that long fishing lines from the Chinese vessels could be drifting into the exclusive economic zone. The fleet is a huge logistical undertaking, with storage and supply vessels that allow it to stay at sea for long periods.

The fleet has drawn the attention of the United States, whose relationship with China is fraught on many fronts. The U.S. National Security Council tweeted that the U.S. stands with Ecuador “against any aggression directed toward their economic and environmental sovereignty.”

The Ecuadorans have had issues with over-fishing Chinese before.

The Ecuadorian navy has been monitoring the fishing fleet since it was spotted last week, according to the country’s defence minister, Oswaldo Jarrín. “We are on alert, [conducting] surveillance, patrolling to avoid an incident such as what happened in 2017,” he said.

The 2017 incident he referred to was the capture by the Ecuadorean navy within the Galápagos marine reserve of a Chinese vessel. The Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999, part of an even larger fleet than the current one, was found to be carrying 300 tonnes of marine wildlife, mostly sharks.

“We were appalled to discover that a massive Chinese industrial fishing fleet is currently off the Galápagos Islands,” said John Hourston, a spokesman for the Blue Planet Society, a NGO which campaigns against overfishing.

This action tends to confirm the premise that the combination of African Swine Fever, COVID-19, and flooding have hit the Chinese food supply hard.

China has a food problem. To a nation whose leaders are old enough to have been directly impacted by The Great Famine, the seriousness of food shortages cannot be overestimated. China’s burgeoning population, growing industrial economy, and expanding culture of consumerism are all contributing to a steady rise in demand for agricultural products.

But agricultural production, lest anyone forget, is subject to the biblical forces of floods, fire, pestilence, and a host of other variables, some of which are right now upsetting China’s delicate food stability. The world’s most populous nation will certainly not run out of food, but prices are rising and hints of tightening supplies are beginning to appear. Things may get worse before they get better.

China’s fiscal reach into Ecuador has been extensive, and there are now signs that the South American nation’s communities are being torn apart by Chinese demands. Several communities have been sacrificed to meet the Chinese demands to create mining operations.

Ecuador is not traditionally a mining country, but the industry was given a more prominent role during the Correa administration. His government, which was marked by strained relations with the United States, looked into diversifying the economy from its dependency on oil exports by attracting external investment to tap into the country’s rich mineral reserves.

Although Mirador is considered the country’s most significant mining project, several concessions for major projects have been granted in recent years, many of them to Chinese companies.

At some 16 million people, Ecuador’s entire population is smaller than that of Beijing – but despite its size, the country isn’t just attractive to investors from the Middle Kingdom, it has rung up a huge debt with China. Out of 15 countries in Latin America that have received Chinese funding, Ecuador is among the top three borrowers, with a total of 15 loans estimated at US$18.4 billion.

It turns out the glorious prosperity the Chinese promised by complying with their demands has not materialized.

 

 
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