On Monday, March 22nd, Argentina’s Coast Guard sank a Chinese fishing vessel that was illegally fishing in Argentina’s waters. The Chinese vessel was in an economic exclusion zone near Puerto Madryn. Argentine officials state that the Coast Guard made repeated radio calls to the fishing vessel, in both English and Spanish, warning it to leave Argentine waters. The Coast Guard fired warning shots, yet the Chinese vessel continued the illegal activities. After hours of pursuing and warning the Chinese fishing vessel, the Argentine Coast Guard sank the Chinese ship. The Coast Guard rescued four of the crew members, including the captain, while Chinese ships that were nearby rescued the rest of the ship’s crew.
In a statement justifying the actions of the Coast Guard, Argentine officials stated that, "On distinct occasions, the offending boat realized maneuvers aimed at colliding with the coast guard, putting not only its own crew at risk, but also the personnel of the coast guard" (Naval Prefecture, 2016). Chinese officials admitted that the ship was in Argentine waters, but contended that Argentina’s actions were of “serious concern” and that Argentina should “take effective measures to avoid any repetition of such an incident” (Wong and Turner, 2016). China has called for an investigation into the incident.
Chinese fishing vessels operating illegally in other country’s waters is not a new phenomenon. Days after the incident in Argentina, the Indonesian Coast Guard was caught in a similar situation. This time, however, the Chinese Coast Guard rammed the Indonesian Coast Guard, using force to allow the Chinese vessel to get away. In Argentine waters, Chinese fishing vessels are after squid. Squid are a vital part of the ecosystem off of Argentina’s coast, but are considered a delicacy in China. Chinese fisherman travel to Argentina in order to cash in on the squid population. The incident near the Puerto Madryn is the second one in two weeks involving a Chinese fishing vessel. In the first week of March, a similar incident occurred with a Chinese ship illegally fishing in Argentine waters. In that incident, though, the Coast Guard fired warning shots and the Chinese vessel was able to elude capture. 2013 marked the last serious incident between the Argentine Coast Guard and Chinese fishing vessels. In that case, a Chinese fishing vessel was apprehended after illegal poaching, and was caught carrying 200 tons of fresh squid illegally obtained (Ferdman, 2013).
The incident will be the first serious test of Chinese-Argentine relations under President Mauricio Macri. Under President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, relations between China and Argentina increased dramatically. China has become a major player in Latin American relations as a whole. In 2015, China invested $65 billion US dollars in the Latin American region (Gillespie, 2016). While the majority of investments are being funneled into Brazil and Venezuela, Argentina has been cashing in on Chinese investment, too. For instance, at the G-20 meeting last year, Argentina and China reached a $15 billion dollar deal for China to finance and build two nuclear power plants in Argentina (Anderlini and Rathbone, 2015). According to the Inter-American Dialouge’s China database, prior to the nuclear power deal Argentina had been given $19 billion dollars since 2007 (Anderlini and Rathbone, 2015). China has come to rely on Latin American countries for natural products, while Latin American nations have started to lean on China for significant investments. While this incident will not undo years of growing ties between China and Argentina, it is significant for President Macri. The incident will be the first serious test for Marci on a global level, especially when it comes to China. How he responds and handles the situation will set the tone for his administration’s relationship with China.
Anderlini, Jamil and John-Paul Rathbone. “China to Build Two Nuclear Plants in Argentina in $15bn Deal.” Financial Times. 17 Nov. 2015.http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/2d264e78-8cf9-11e5-a549-b89a1dfede9b.html#axzz43dmYp1EG
“China Goes 1 for 2 in Fishing Boat Wars with Neighbors.” Fortune. 21 Mar. 2016.http://fortune.com/2016/03/21/china-indonesia-fishing-coastguard-incident/
Ferdman, Roberto A. “Argentina Caught a Chinese Ship Trying to Steal 180 Tonnes of its Squid.” Quartz. 20 Jun. 2013. http://qz.com/95869/argentina-caught-a-chinese-ship-trying-to-steal-180-tonnes-of-its-squid/
Gillespie, Patrick. “China’s Big Bet on Latin America is Going Bust.” 16 Feb. 2016.http://money.cnn.com/2016/02/16/news/economy/china-latin-america-projects-fail/
“Prefectura hundio a un buque Chino que pescaba dentro de la zona económica exclusiva y rescató a su tripulación.” Naval Prefecutra. 22 Mar. 2016.http://www.prefecturanaval.gov.ar/web/es/html/noti_gacetillas.php?numero=05516
Wong, Chun Han and Taos Turner. “China Calls for Investigation into Argentine Sinking of Fishing Vessel.” The Wall Street Journal. 16 Mar. 2016.http://www.wsj.com/articles/china-calls-for-investigation-into-argentine-sinking-of-fishing-vessel-145810274