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Exposing the Gap Between PRC Rhetoric and Illicit Maritime Activity: Case Study Compilation

Ryan LoomisHeidi Holz
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In recent years, persons, vessels, and corporations based in or tied to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have reportedly engaged in illicit maritime activities around the globe. International news media, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and foreign governments have all published reports detailing persistent illicit maritime activity involving PRC actors, including PRC nationals, PRC-based criminal organizations, PRC-flagged vessels, and vessels beneficially owned by PRC entities (a beneficial owner enjoys the benefits of ownership even though the title to the property is in another name)PRC-flagged vessels, vessels beneficially owned by PRC entities, and PRC-based criminal organizations.1 The alleged illicit maritime activities of PRC actors are often at odds with Beijing’s rhetoric expressing support for international maritime laws (including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS), rules, and norms. Unless addressed, this gap between Beijing’s rhetoric and the behavior of PRC actors has the potential to undermine the global system of international laws, norms, and conventions that govern the maritime domain.

To examine possible contradictions between the PRC’s official rhetoric and the illicit transnational maritime activities reportedly carried out by PRC-based actors, CNA examined 15 cases in which PRC actors have been accused of illegal behavior in the maritime domain between 2018 and 2021. These cases are geographically focused in the maritime areas surrounding Southeast Asia, the Atlantic coast of Africa, and the Pacific Island countries. For each case, we examined the following:

  • The alleged illegal PRC activity and the types of PRC actors involved
  • PRC official policies and narratives about that type of activity (e.g., illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing or human trafficking)
  • International, local, and PRC laws, policies, and norms at risk of subversion by the alleged activity
  • PRC officials’ and media responses to these incidents

Data sources for these case studies included PRC official statements, PRC foreign-directed and domestic media, local news media reports in countries affected by the alleged PRC behavior, maritime domain awareness and vessel tracking databases, subject matter experts, maritime law and regulation databases, and secondary literature published by nongovernmental and other research organizations. This document contains overviews of each of the 15 cases.

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Approved for public release. Unlimited distribution.

This work was performed under Cooperative Agreement/Grant Award Number: SGECPD19CA0026.

This project has been supported by funding from the U.S. Department of State.

Details

  • Pages: 72
  • Document Number: IIM-2021-U-031286-Final
  • Publication Date: 12/1/2021
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