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Brazil and China officials resume bilateral defence talks but also discuss fishing complaints

Brazil used the visit of a Chinese naval delegation on Friday to complain about alleged illegal fishing by Chinese vessels between the Brazilian and African Atlantic coasts.

The military entourage arrived on Thursday, with the visit expected to last two days.

Led by the Secretary of the PLA Navy Yuan Huazhi, the group also includes the Navy Deputy Chief of Staff Admiral Li Pengcheng; China's defence attache in Brazil, Zhang Linhong; and five other officers.

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The commander of the Brazilian Navy, Admiral Marcos Sampaio Olsen, and the chief of staff of the navy, Admiral Jose Augusto Vieira da Cunha de Menezes, hosted their guests in Brasilia.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was said to have arranged the visit just days in advance. Photo: AFP alt=Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was said to have arranged the visit just days in advance. Photo: AFP>

The meeting points to the resumption of bilateral defence talks, postponed since 2020 due to the pandemic. Sources familiar with the matter confirmed that the visit was brokered by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and arranged just days in advance - the reason no military agreement is likely to be signed.

The Brazilian military complained about Chinese fishing vessels leaving the African coast, sailing through Atlantic waters without being tracked, and engaging in illegal fishing, the Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo reported.

So-called illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing occurs when foreign vessels fish illegally in the exclusive economic zone of other countries, defined in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea as the area up to 200 nautical miles off a state's coast.

Global Fishing Watch, a non-governmental organisation that promotes transparency in the fishing industry and helps government agencies fight illegal fishing, told the Post that up to one in five fish caught at sea are the result of IUU fishing, a market estimated to be up to US$23.5 billion a year

According to a report published by Investigative Journalism Reportika in February, Chinese vessels account for 60 per cent of all IUU fishing cases reported in 2021.

In addition, American University in Washington reported in October that the crime had led to the decline of fish stocks and the extinction of protected marine species in South America.

Besides economic losses and the consequences for the environment, Brazil is also concerned about regional security.

Filipe Porto, a fellow at the Brazilian Naval War School's Conjuncture Assessment Centre, said that the strengthening of Chinese military ties with African coastal nations, as well as alleged Chinese interest in building a naval base in Argentina to consolidate its presence in the South Atlantic, raised concerns by Brazilian military officers.

Admiral Marcos Sampaio Olsen, commander of the Brazilian Navy, hosted the talks. Photo: Wikipedia alt=Admiral Marcos Sampaio Olsen, commander of the Brazilian Navy, hosted the talks. Photo: Wikipedia>

The military doctrine adopted by Brazil, Porto said, provides for the protection of the region in partnership with the countries that share the Atlantic coast. Despite the unease, however, the Lula administration has pushed for greater engagement with China.

"The armed forces have the tactical and operational autonomy to patrol the area and detect crimes such as illegal and unregulated fishing, but the power to do something about it rests with the presidency," Porto said.

"The Brazilian military has a long tradition of alignment with the West, many officers have studied at American schools and may even take a more hawkish attitude towards China, but the Navy is the most pragmatic of the armed forces ... The IUU fishing [issue] will certainly be addressed diplomatically and militarily."

The Chinese embassy in Brazil sent a statement to the Post that China conducts fishing in distant waters following international laws and regulations and "adopting a zero-tolerance attitude towards illegal fishing".

The embassy also noted that Beijing had instituted voluntary moratoriums in certain parts of the high seas and that China is committed to "science-based conservation and sustainable use of international fisheries".

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2023 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2023. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.