China fishes in Russian waters

The Peoples of the North fishing crew catching fish on the Opala Rive, Kamchatka Territory. Source: RIA Novosti / Alexey Kudenko

The Peoples of the North fishing crew catching fish on the Opala Rive, Kamchatka Territory. Source: RIA Novosti / Alexey Kudenko

Friendship between China and Russia is determined by the overall strategic situation instead of some individual incidents.

The fortnight-long fracas over alleged attacks on Chinese fishing boats by the Russian authorities in the Far East has come to a conclusion, according to the foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing. In a series of incidents since mid-July, Russian coastguards detained as many as 69 Chinese fishermen allegedly involved in illegal fishing in Russia’s exclusive economic zone.

The initial Chinese reaction was rather strident. A strong demarche was apparently lodged at the level of vice-foreign minister Cheng Guoping, which was an unusually high level for a routine consular issue. Cheng said Beijing was “very dissatisfied” and demanded that Russia should “thoroughly investigate and inform China in a timely manner.” 

The influential Global Times promptly chipped in with a strident editorial. It accused the Russian side of indulging in a “violent form of law enforcement”, which was “unacceptable” and “conveyed an image of rudeness” that could only “harm Chinese confidence in fostering a long-term friendship with Russia.”

The Russian side played cool and refrained from joining issue with the Chinese rhetoric. Conceivably, someone also noted in Beijing that GT went too far in making intemperate comments that were far out of proportion to what actually happened. Anyway, just 5 days later, GT piped down and drew the bottom line that “Friendship between China and Russia is determined by the overall strategic situation instead of some individual incidents… We should avoid burning our house to rid it of a mouse.”

But the GT also disclosed

There are still some others using the incident to stir up tensions between China and Russia.”

The GT report gave an assessment of the overall China-Russia relationship:

“However, problems do exist between the two nations. 

China and Russia have a comprehensive and coordinated strategic partnership. Nevertheless, it doesn't mean that there is no gulf or conflict between the two. China and Russia both have its own national interests. Just like any other bilateral relationship in the world, Sino-Russian relations are finally determined by national interests. Conflicts or even confrontations are inevitable, as shown in the fishing case. However, these problems can be avoided by economic or legal means.

 China and Russia should handle these problems in a rational, practical and realistic way. This incident should not be escalated into political friction. Exaggerating this unfortunate occurrence will only harm Sino-Russian friendship. It will be highly undesirable for both sides to see things worsen.”

The foreign ministry statement in Beijing on Monday suggests a two-point agreement having been reached whereby Russia would grant China certain fishing quotas in its exclusive economic zone and China would suitably compensate Russia elsewhere in its own economic zone. No details have been divulged.

Second, the two sides will set up a “maritime law-enforcement and security cooperation mechanism” to prevent such incidents of illegal trawling. How this new mechanism will work has not been spelt out, though.

The innovative mechanism harmonising economic and security interests will be of interest to other countries, too – how it works in practice and its applicability. Moscow is yet to comment.

The Chinese utterances were in the immediate run-up to a high-profile visit by the Japanese foreign minister to Russia as well as a 5-day state visit by the Vietnamese president.

Russia is also hosting the APEC summit meeting in September in Vladivostok and the development of Siberia and the Russian Far East with the participation of friendly countries (Japan, China, South Korea, Vietnam, etc.) and the region’s economic integration with the dynamic Asia-Pacific region is a top priority for Moscow. 

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