Chinese press target Leonardo DiCaprio, New York Times for criticism of distant-water fleet

Published on
October 5, 2022
The actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

A government-run newspaper and social media accounts in China have targeted actor Leonardo di Caprio and The New York Times for criticizing China’s distant-water fishing industry.

Di Caprio recently used his Twitter account to highlight an extensive New York Times article published 26 September titled “How China Targets the Global Fish Supply,” which details the global footprint of China’s fishing fleet. The Chinese language edition of the Global Times, a tabloid run by the Communist Party daily organ the People’s Daily, described the article's claims as false and distorted.

The Global Times targeted its author, the Times’ former China correspondent Stephen Lee Myers, claiming he is “biased” against China. Without refuting any specific details of illegal fishing mentioned in the article, the Global Times pointed to China’s annual fishing moratorium for its coastal waters and a seasonal ban introduced for China’s squid-fishing fleet operating in the high seas near Latin America, put in place by the country’s agriculture ministry, which regulates the fleet.

China’s highly censored media has rarely cast the country’s distant-water fleet in a negative light, choosing to highlight government talking points on the country’s exploitation of economic opportunity on the high seas. While the business press has occasionally investigated questionable ownership structures of companies operating privately-owned fleets, many local newspapers in China have enthusiastically reported plans by various port cities in China to grow their distant-water fleets and related seafood-processing businesses through subsidies. Part of China’s distant-water fleet is owned by the state, which also controls the press, which in recent years has turned hyper-nationalistic, calling out any form of Western criticism as an attempt to thwart China’s rise.

The episode surrounding Di Caprio’s comments on the New York Times highlights the difficulties of raising awareness of overfishing among China’s public. Those obstacles could partially explain efforts by environmental campaigners to focus on food safety and quality as the primary selling points for sustainability-linked eco-labels in China.

Commenting on the Global Times on Weibo, social media users pointed out what they saw as hypocrisy from DiCaprio and Western media. Pointing to DiCaprio’s tweets, one Weibo user criticized DiCaprio under the handle DXMfaOB.

“He usually eats better than anyone else. Westerners are like this. When they are full, [they] tell others that you can't eat more,” the user wrote.

“Europe and the United States have developed and developed themselves, and they have high value-added and profitable industries. They then tell others ‘Development will damage the environment, you all stop and make some low-end products,’” another Weibo user, named "Jiangnan First Monsoon," commented.

Photo courtesy of taniavolobueva/Shutterstock

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