French President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday France and South Pacific nations would launch a South Pacific coastguard network to counter “predatory” behavior, which an adviser said was aimed at illegal fishing, as China expands its maritime reach.
The United States and allies including France, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, are actively expanding their activity in the Pacific to counter China’s influence.
Though tiny in land mass, Pacific islands control vast swaths of resource-rich ocean called Exclusive Economic Zones(EEZ), forming a formidable boundary between the Americas and Asia.
“To better cope with the predatory logic we are all victims of, I want to boost our maritime cooperation in the South Pacific,” Macron said after a video conference with the leaders of Australia, the Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea and representatives of New Zealand and other Pacific nations.
“We are going to launch a network of coastguards for the South Pacific around three main objectives: information sharing, operational cooperation and training,” he said.
Macron did not name China in his final remarks. Asked whether the policy was aimed at China’s expansion, a French presidential adviser said it targeted illegal fishing that was “for the most part due to private actors.”
China’s fishing fleets – from privately owned craft to commercial trawlers belonging to publicly listed companies – have headed deeper into Southeast Asian waters in search of new fishing grounds as stocks thin out closer to home.
They have ventured into disputed waters, causing diplomatic rows with countries around the South China Sea but also as far away as Argentina.
France, which has island territories spanning the Indo-Pacific including Reunion in the Indian Ocean and French Polynesia in the Pacific, has boosted defence ties with Australia and India as part of a move to counter Chinese influence in the region.