China brushes off US sanctions against Dalian Ocean Fishing

U.S. sanctions filed last week against a Chinese distant-water fishing firm for alleged forced labor abuses amount to “American slander,” according to a Chinese state media outlet.

The China Youth Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party Youth League, has sought to link the  U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s sanctioning of the Dalian Ocean Fishing Co. to other Western claims of human rights abuses as part of a coordinated effort to “tarnish” China.

In an editorial, the newspaper claimed the deaths of Indonesian crew onboard Dalian Ocean Fishing Co. vessels were “hyped like crazy” by Western media, with no attempt made to explore the circumstances surrounding the deaths. The unsigned, unsourced article said "analysts" have claimed the U.S. is using human rights as a "weapon" to tarnish China, comparing the fishing labor claims to "false" claims of mass imprisonment in Xinjiang, where millions of ethnic Uighurs and Kazakhs have been documented to be facing detention, resettlement, and forced labor.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s withhold release order on Dalian Ocean Fishing, which effectively bars the company’s products from entering American ports, was issued after what the agency said was a yearlong investigation that revealed forced labor in the company’s operations, including signs of company representatives isolating workers, withholding wages, using intimidation, and retaining workers’ identification documents.

The China Youth Daily, which is usually a reliable mouthpiece for official Chinese policy, claimed in its unsigned article that the U.S. had leaned on Indonesia to escalate its complaints over labor abuses in Dalian Ocean Fishing’s fleet.

Dalian Ocean Fishing, which also goes by its formal Chinese name of Dalian Yuan Yang Tuna Yu Ye Co., or by “China Tuna” brand name, is a key supplier to major Japanese buyers, including the Mitsubishi Corp. In 2018, the firm was the target of a takeover attempt by Jia Jia Food Group, a leading Chinese soy processor and distributor, which wanted to sell tuna through its large distribution network. But Jiajia appears to have been scared off by the collapse in profitability in the tuna sector in the past two years due to oversupply, as many Chinese firms expanded their distant-water tuna fleets. 

The scale of foreign labor in China’s fleet is difficult to establish, given a lack of figures or documentary evidence supplied by China. The 2020 edition of the U.S. Labor Department’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor – a report required by the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005 – claims that the majority of workers on Chinese distant-water fishing vessels are migrants from Indonesia and the Philippines. Yet the report cites only non-governmental organizations and news reports, with no reference to Chinese sources.

Responding to the U.S. action, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Wang Wenbin connected the withhold release order to U.S protests over mistreatment of the Uighurs and China’s new security law in Hong Kong, saying the move was part of a U.S. slander campaign against China being conducted under the pretext of concern for human rights.

Wang said Dalian Ocean Fishing doesn’t sell its products in the U.S., though the China Youth Daily said the firm sold almost USD 300,000 (EUR 247,000) worth of seafood in the U.S. last year.

Photo courtesy of Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission


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