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Beijing may be trying to coerce Moscow into letting it fish gratis in Russian waters
Since at least 2014, Russia and China have seen their interests conflating against the United States and its allies. It is no surprise that both Russia and China (and their adversaries) see this “alliance” as flexible, pragmatic and based on mutual benefit, but not at the expense of either party’s distinct national interests – especially economic.
With the recent joint military exercises, hysterical discourse around a supposed joint Russia-China front across domains is emerging, yet despite this, not all is well between the Dragon and the Bear.
An undeclared quasi trade war on fisheries is ongoing between Russia and China. As early as October 2020, Russian media reported Chinese authorities were restricting fisheries imports from the Russian Far East.
With the Covid-19 pandemic raging, the cited reason was “traces of the coronavirus on the seafood’s outer packaging.” This may have had some overlap with Chinese authorities’ desire to deflect the blame over the origins of the Covid-19 virus in Wuhan, China.
Almost 60% of Russian seafood exports have been to the Chinese market alone, in previous years. The restrictions are still in force, and the response of the Chinese authorities has been less than engaging. The Russian Far East’s fisheries economy is set to bear losses in the range of 27% decline in revenue.
For a measure of how drastic the situation has been, in March, Alexei Chekunkov, the Russian minister for the development of the Russian Far East and Arctic, went so far as to say that Far Eastern fishermen can safely delete the year 2021 from their calendar.
The most affected regions in Russia are Sakhalin Oblast and Kamchatka Krai, which export much of their fish to China. In response to the crisis, the Russian fishing industry refuses to adopt a defeatist approach. Its efforts have been multifaceted – finding new alternatives to the Chinese market, seeking economic state intervention from the Russian government, and pushing for mitigating measures at relevant joint forums with China.