Chinese fishery firm conducts COVID aid diplomacy to secure Iran access

Published on
April 30, 2020

A subsidiary of a major Chinese fishing group has donated a consignment of medical face masks to Iran, as Iranian fishermen and legislators are calling for a tougher approach to vessels from China.

The boss of Shenzhen Shui Wan Distant Water Fishing Co., a subsidiary of the Guangdong Shunxin Marine Fishery Group Co., visited the Guangzhou consulate of the Islamic Republic recently to donate 20,000 face masks. The donation, which was packaged in Chinese and Iranian flags, was received by consular staff, who posted a photo of the occasion on the consulate’s Weibo account. A receptionist reached at the head office of Guangdong Shunxin Marine Fishery Group said the company has bases in Iran, as well as in Fiji and Malaysia.

China has recently made much of its dispatch of medical goods and person protective equipment, particularly to countries on Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative, of which Iran is a key part. A propaganda campaign in Chinese media has cast the country as a global benefactor at a time when traditional U.S. leadership has been absent from the world stage.

China is a vital trading partner for Iran and a buyer of its oil, but the presence of Chinese trawlers in Iran’s waters has long been a source of discontent among some Iranian politicians and fishery bodies. The presence of Chinese vessels in Iranian waters has become a sensitive political issue in Iran, complicated by Chinese trawlers frequently flying Iranian flags and Iranian fishing firms using Chinese vessels in apparent rental arrangements.

With its 5,800 kilometers of coastline, Iran fronts onto important tuna-fishing grounds, including the Gulf of Oman, and Chinese vessels have targeted local lanternfish for fishmeal production. Additionally, Iran’s aquaculture sector has looked to China as a market for shrimp as well as for investment at a time when the country’s access to the global financial system is constrained by U.S. sanctions.

Members of Iran’s parliament, which offers far more robust debate than China’s own, have frequently complained about China’s aggressive presence in Iranian waters. In 2018, Ahmad Moradi, a member for the southerly Bandar Abbas region, claimed on the floor of Parliament that Chinese vessels were emptying Iran’s southern waters by engaging in overfishing.  Another MP, Fatemeh Zolghadr, recently blamed Chinese dragnets for the death of 150 dolphins over the past two years.

Photo courtesy of Embassy of theIslamic Republic of Iran in the People's Republic of China

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