China's new push for African fisheries

Published on
May 13, 2014

China appears to be doubling its efforts to secure sub-Saharan African fishing resources with a new cooperation zone that should see African fish shipped into a giant new processing base in the southern Chinese province of Fujian.

Ground was broken this month on the China Africa Fisheries Cooperation Project in Langqi special economic zone, in a suburb of the provincial capital, Fuzhou. Local fisheries executives and officials joined with fisheries officials flown in from 15 African countries to mark the opening of the zone and given a tour of south China. The park is set to be run by the China Africa Fisheries Union (CAFU), a body run by Chinese fisheries companies with fleets in African waters.

The 200 hectare site in Fuzhou will feature a harbor and cold chain logistics and processing facilities but there will also be a training center for fishing crews as well as a conference center and tourist facilities, according to Yang Muze, head of the Langqi economic zone.

Prominently featured in TV reporting of the ground-breaking ceremony were banners bearing the acronym CAFU — which despite the title appear to be an entirely Chinese-run organization chaired by local long-distance fishing companies. Indeed a “letter of intent” signed at the ceremony between the Langqi economic zone and the CAFU was an all-Chinese affair.

Yet the project promises Africa’s fisheries sector investment and cooperation in return for access to seafood for Chinese fishing vessels. Officials from Zanzibar, Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal were interviewed on Fujian TV with the delegate from the Lagos State ministry of Agriculture (her name was translated as ‘Ao La Tuo Kunbu’) declaring she wanted Chinese government help to boost mariculture and, in particular, farming of tilapia, in the West African state.

The new project in Fuzhou has been explained in China as part of the country’s ‘Maritime Silk Road’ — a term newly in vogue in Chinese official circles and used to describe a quest to boost trade links overseas. Local officials have lately been drawing on the efforts 600 years ago of Zhang He, a local explorer, to build trading routes for China abroad. The government of Beihai, a port city in Guangxi province known for tilapia and shrimp processing and trade, has similarly been promoting its own Maritime Silk Road plans.

In addition to witnessing the sod-turning on the China Africa Fisheries Cooperation Project, the African fishery officials appear to have been shown a good time in Fujian. A line of black sedans was shown on local TV dropping off the African fisheries delegates at their hotels, greeting by officials of the China Africa Fishery Union, a media-shy body founded in Beijing in December 2012 “to develop African marine fisheries resources, the development of China-Africa trade of fisheries and promote China-Africa marine fisheries cooperation and exchange platform for the purpose of international trade.” Members include Wu Lin Zhu, secretary general of the Fujian Ocean Fisheries Association. Key figures in the union including the vice secretary general are from the Lianjiang Farsea Fisheries Co. and the Hei Ying Asset Management Co., both firms in southeasterly Fujian province. Also involved is the Fujian Ocean Fisheries Association.

The event in Fuzhou appears to have been timed to coincide with a high-profile Africa tour by Chinese premier Li Keqiang that featured a new emphasis on Chinese respect for local wildlife and environmental resources. While China has been keen to extract oil, timber and minerals from Africa it has also been blamed for a new surge in wildlife poaching.

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