From protest to negotiation, three years without results to avoid the presence of the Chinese fleet
By Gladys Rivadeneira for El Universo
August 10, 2020 – 06h00
Quito – For three years, diplomatic actions to prevent the foreign fishing fleet, mostly Chinese, from being active near the Galapagos Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) have not been successful.
The Ecuadorian Navy has warned of the presence of this fleet in July 2017, June 2018 and April 2019.
In 2017, just over two months into the Lenín Moreno government, a Chinese reefer ship, now known as “Hualcopo”, was captured for entering the Galapagos Maritime Reserve.
The chancellor of the moment, María Fernanda Espinosa, raised a note of protest to China and ordered “the articulation” of actions with international organizations linked to fisheries such as the Regional Organization for Fisheries Management of the South Pacific (RFMO-PS) and the Inter-American Commission of the Tropical Tuna (CIAT), a statement also announced by Foreign Minister Luis Gallegos.
The Permanent Commission of the South Pacific (CPPS), whose decisions are not binding, issued a statement of condemnation in 2017, similar to the one issued in the Declaration of the Extraordinary Assembly, these days.
The Chinese government responded with an investigation into the seized vessel, saying that “if necessary, it will establish corrective measures and apply sanctions.”
Espinosa resigned in June 2018 and in that same month the Chinese fleet was back. In April 2019, with José Valencia in front of the Foreign Ministry, the Government immediately summoned the Chinese ambassador to speak on the matter.
After the entry of Hualcopo in 2017, the slogan was to defend Ecuador’s sovereignty and jurisdiction, both over the territorial sea and the marine reserve as well as in the EEZ, rather than initiating actions for the conservation of the species beyond 200 miles The discussion of the environmental impact was reinforced this year.
In these three years and, after the signing of the Comprehensive Strategic Alliance (AEI in Spanish) between the two countries in 2016, there were several more meetings between the authorities of the two countries, but high seas fishing was not an issue of relevance in those meetings.
Relations have crossed [between Ecuador and China] with: the G77 and China climate warming, with donations aid to the 2016 earthquake, meetings between Celac and China, the reception of the Chinese trade proposal “Belt and Road”, the consolidation of the AEI, the visit from President Moreno to China, decoration to outgoing Chinese Ambassador Wang Yulin, who was already in the impasse for the fleet, in 2017.
In addition, meetings at the United Nations, signing of cooperation agreements to promote the economic and social development of Ecuador, credits, tourism promotion and, lastly, this year, donations due to COVID-19 and the shrimp impasse.
Now, the Foreign Minister of Ecuador, Luis Gallegos, varies the diplomatic strategy; instead of protesting, he asks to negotiate and China accepts. Gallegos immediately pointed out: “In a few days, we have achieved what has not been achieved in three years.”
This is asserted, although there would be no Agreement or Law to which the two countries are subscribers that obliges the Asian country to remove its vessels from the international water corridor between the two ZZE of insular and continental Ecuador.
At some point there was talk of the possibility of implementing the “Agreement for the application of the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Convemar), relating to the conservation and management of straddling fish stocks and fish stocks highly migratory “, just the species found in this area in front of the Galapagos EEZ.
However, China, which is part of the Convemar, signed this Agreement, but has not ratified it, according to the Convemar Bulletin of July 2019 and the captain of the Navy in passive service, Humberto Gómez.With this background, the Chinese ambassador, Chen Guoyou, ratified, in a press conference with the Ecuadorian media, that there is no law that prevents fishing on the high seas (outside the EEZ) and that he would consult his country in regards to the agreed fishing ban to the southwest of the Galapagos that it is agreed for the period of September to November, which may or may not also apply between July and August, when they regularly arrive each year.
Regarding the diplomatic handling that Ecuador has had on the subject, the professor in International Relations at the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador (PUCE), Pablo Medina, considers that “protesting” can be useful between “symmetrical” countries, but this is not the case between Ecuador and China.
So, Medina says, there are two pragmatic solutions: open a direct bilateral negotiation, as Gallegos has done, or seek to reduce this asymmetry by establishing regional alliances, with the riparian countries, for example, because there is no way to impose anything on China and even less so if they are in international waters. Furthermore, the processes in international relations are not automatic, they take time.
For the president of the Assembly’s International Relations Commission, Fernando Flores, the Ecuadorian government should have demanded the withdrawal, although it acknowledges that it is a matter of China’s willingness, as they are in international waters. Assemblyman César Rohón added that the departure is diplomatic and through regional fishing organizations.
Gallegos assures that it is the beginning of a consultation process and it is a great step.
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