Strategic Patterns: China & Russia Seek Control Over Food & Migration


There is a common strategic pattern in China’s pursuit of global food supply control at-Sea, international agricultural ownership, and support for Russia as it guns for Ukraine as Europe’s breadbasket.

China also supports Russia as Moscow asserts its “plus” influence on OPEC, towards inflating fuel and therefore food prices in many markets. China also supports Russia as it selects, subverts, and supports incompetent, corrupt leaders that vandalize their own vassal economies as seen in Venezuela and Lebanon.

With its global real estate investments China can enhance its cash flow and food security related to domestic needs (semi-benign) or use coercive supply side controls (unrestricted warfare) as an aspect of the “Belt” in the Belt and Road (BRI). Both benign and malign uses of food control could be strategic, with greater risk for all, including China, in the latter.

From the strategic malign perspective, the Belt, with Russia’s help is cinched around the Global South’s girth, and tightened through the loops of corrupt vassal dictatorships until oppressed or disfavored millions are forced to flee their homes. Many flee to the Global North for help: the United States, Canada, European Union, U.K., and Nordic countries. As such, the dictators’ club seems to be saying: Let the free world fight with itself over receiving the huddled masses while the dictators build, produce, and expand.

“The Road” would be China’s buildout of imperial, mercantile infrastructure projects, ports, businesses, military bases, and the export of Chinese expats throughout the world to collect resources and perpetuate Xi’s global Empire. For Russia it would be trade partnerships with Russian energy (oil and nuclear), arms, space, and private military services for sale.

With the poor and problematic out of the way and off of vassal states’ socialist debt ledgers, China, Russia, and their vassal leaders could more easily seize abandoned land and industrialize the outposts of the new Chinese and Russian empires at lower cost.

Famine, Hunger, Militant Coercion, and Weaponized Migration

Does the above seem too harsh an analysis? History suggests otherwise. Stalin and Mao used violence, famine, and hunger as weapons to consolidate power and clear out entire populations protesting their communist dictates, evidenced in their 20th Century democides, the Holomodor of Ukraine and the Great Chinese Famine.

Fast-forward. On June 6, 2023, Putin’s invading army flooded a vast swath of Ukrainian agricultural land by blowing up the Kakhovka Dam with dire humanitarian impact while retreating from Ukraine’s early counteroffensive to Russia’s February 2022 aggression. Putin also ordered Black Sea blockades on marine shipments of Ukrainian grain to Africa and other famine-sensitive markets, agreed to lower it, then reneged and bombarded a Ukrainian grain facility in Odessa.

Putin would do this, you think. He is a heartless KGB agent of Soviet origin. A nihilist like Stalin. But Chinese President Xi Jinping? He speaks at Davos, invests abroad, lifts Chinese from poverty, wears a Western suit, and brokers common ground between Sunnis and Shiites. How could he have used food as a weapon? By supporting Putin as he drives conflict, chaos, displacement of people in Latin American, Africa, and the Middle East via Wagner Group violence and inflationary OPEC influence.

Other than letting Russia do his direct dirty work, Xi’s use of food and poverty as a weapon occurs with “Distant Water Fishing” or DWF, which China does globally on a massive industrial scale, including in fisheries off the coasts of Latin America and Africa, adversely affecting local fish stocks and fish industries.

One may mistake China’s DWF fleets with an estimated 17,000 vessels globally (per Ocean Development Institute) as hard-nosed business competition until you realize the industry has been subsidized by the Chinese communist government since the fleets’ deployment. And China is rated as by far the greatest global perpetrator of illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU fishing) in the world.

Unchecked, overfishing of Latin American and African coastal fisheries by industrial scale Chinese DWF operations has and will continue to have a negative economic impact on artisan and advanced artisan fishers from Latin American and African coastal communities dependent on sustainable marine life ecosystems for their livelihoods and food supply. One study found distant water fishing off the West African coast caused “loss of revenues for Mauritania, Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, estimated at 2.3 billion USD annually.”

What does loss of livelihood do to coastal dwelling fishers one might call artisan, subsistence fishermen, or to larger advanced artisan fishing operations? Here’s just one human interest quote:

“Imagine working for weeks and not being able to catch food,” says Woody Backie Koroma of the Sierra Leone Artisanal Fishermen Union. “They are getting debts. They go to bed without food.”

Such is the strain, says Koroma, that one debt-ridden fisherman in Tombo killed himself last year after his boat was confiscated by the local authorities.

The large scale risk is collapse of fish stocks, extinction of species links in food chain, and breaking of regenerative ecosystems coastal communities and their markets depend on. If that happens, multiply the human interest story above by some tens of millions, with repeat refugee disasters hitting humankind.

With China financing infrastructure and agriculture in many of these developing countries, few of their leaders protest China’s overfishing DWF fleets. Kenya, for example suffered a drop in their local fishing catches but opted not to ban Chinese goods in retaliation for China’s DWF off of Kenya.

China’s DWF fishing puts China in a position either to become an economic savior and food supplier to nations it has ‘fished-under,’ or the angel of death. Consider China’s subsidized aqua-culture industry aimed at mass fish production as a backup should it hollow out the oceans’ fisheries. It has also been developing aquaculture vessels to solve problems with land-based aquaculture and bring a mobile aspect to fish production and sales abroad. It is a cynical implication, but real nonetheless.

If China’s overfishing drives fishing-dependent citizens out of developing coastal states, where do they go? From Africa they go to the European Union and in Latin America, increasingly to other Latin American states or to the United States. Abandoned coastal towns and fewer poor for the vassals to subsidize would make it easier to develop coastal infrastructure, resorts, tourist attractions, new ports, or even Chinese naval bases.

In the above scenario, China’s DWF fleets risk adding economically displaced persons to already massive migration waves driven to the E.U. and U.S. by Russian wars of aggression, destabilization operations, and support for crisis-causing oppressors in all hemispheres. Russia, with Syria, Belarus, Venezuela, Libyan warlords, and Cuba have used migration and refugees as economic, administrative, social, and terrorist camouflage weapons.

China’s overfishing negatively impacts the commercial fishing industries of Latin American and African states whether it is illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing adjacent to or inside coastal states’ EEZs. 

This has led members of the U.S. Congress last week to propose a law banning imports of Chinese seafood to protect U.S. and U.S. territory fisheries from the Chinese DWF fleets that the Economist called “rapacious.”

The Worst Case

The worst case risk is if IUU and legal overfishing in addition to war, pollution, and climate change causes a collapse in fish populations in fisheries off the coasts of affected states. In such a case, massive knock-on effects would likely displace poorer coastal populations whose fisheries collapse. This would most likely drive migration and scarcity, leading to clashes and conflict. In 2018, UNCTAD estimated that nearly 90% of the world’s marine fish stocks are now fully exploited, overexploited or depleted, warning that nation state subsidization of their DWF fleets is the cause and must end.

Should fisheries fail along the coasts of Africa and Latin America, displaced fishers and their families will be at risk of refugee status and some segment will attempt to emigrate to developed Western countries, some will become refugees, and others will fall prey to terrorist, criminal, and coercive non-state group activity as happened when Somali fishermen resorted to piracy to try to stop DWF ships off of Somalia from damaging the Somali catch.

Preliminary Conclusion

By aggressive diplomatic outreach, the bully pulpit, and allied free nation mutual support, self-investment, innovation, and military renewal, the United States and allies around the world can come to grips with the trends of Chinese and Russian imperial programs and take strategic, collective actions to stop their irresponsible vandalism of the Global South and Global North. Comprehending, verifying, and clearly communicating the implications of what China and Russia have been doing is the first step. Creating new international organizations to bypass the U.N. gridlock will help free nations to recruit developing nations both South and North to join the free nations movement in the world as the alternative to what the Eastern empires have to offer.

Implicit in this is canceling and amending past colonialism, and bringing E Pluribus Unum principles not only to our domestic national life, but out of respect for those would-be free nations in the developing world looking for an alternative.

To do this, existing free nation powers and superpowers must offer committed, collectively vested alternatives to the imperial programs of China and Russia in collective free nation alliance with Global South and North countries to balance power in the world.

There is no time for disunity, confusion, appeasement, or hand-wringing. U.S. joint leadership with nations abroad is key, but the U.S. must take bold, unifying leadership steps at home to bridge its communication problems across all media and break-up the algorithmic siloes keeping people divided with each other.

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