by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Gnangarra/WikiCommons/CC BY 3.0 au

DPP LIENCHIANG county chapter director Lii Wen and legislator Hung Sun-han held a press conference in Taipei last month to call attention to allegations of Australian rock lobster being smuggled into China with the possible cooperation of local politicians.

According to the two DPP politicians, 60,000 kilograms of lobster were smuggled into China by two vessels, the Haiyuan and Chengfeng, between September and November of last year. This was a total of 33 ships.

Rock lobsters were previously exported to China from Australia, but it was one of the goods targeted by China in an import ban. This was retaliation for the Australian government calling for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19. As with similar bans targeting Taiwanese companies and products, the Chinese government took aim at a high visibility target with symbolic value that was a luxury product–rather than any intermediate goods that its own supply chains are reliant on.

Facebook post about the lobster smuggling by Hung Sun-han

40 to 200 boxes of lobster weighing twenty kilograms were taken out of the port each time, for a total of 3,313 boxes. 60,000 kilograms of lobster would be worth around 200 million NT, meaning that this was a substantial smuggling operation.

To this extent, the Coast Guard is accused of being aware of the smuggling operation but being pressured not to take action. The Coast Guard reportedly warned the county government that ships traveling to Daqiu were involved in smuggling lobster, seeing as Daqiu is uninhabited by only Sika deer, and recommended not approving the smuggling routes.

Nevertheless, this apparently did not happen. Lii and Hung suggested that the reason for this was due to that Kinmen county officials who were also involved in the smuggling operation, or Coast Guard members themselves, who at the very least turned a blind eye to the practice. Lii previously drew attention to the issue of lobsters being transported to China by plane.

In particular, the issue of Australian rock lobster smuggling to China, circumventing the Chinese government’s ban on imports of rock lobster from Australia, touches on a number of stakeholders. This includes, of course, the Kinmen county government and coast guard, Taiwan as a whole, but also both the Australian and Chinese governments.

Illegal smuggling to and from China proves a significant issue faced by Taiwan with a number of goods. This is particularly the case with regard to smuggling that takes place onboard naval vessels, with it hard to conduct inspections on the high seas.

Mazu in particular also faces issues with sand dredging from Chinese vessels that trespass into waters controlled by Taiwan. This points to further issues faced by the outlying islands of Taiwan pertaining to the high seas.

At the same time, issues of corruption run deep at the local level of politics in Taiwan. The KMT and pan-Blue camp in particular has long had a reputation for corruption, going back to its actions during the authoritarian period, with gangsters relied on as political enforcers to mobilize votes. Such issues are particularly prevalent in rural areas and this has continued to be an issue, with a number of local politicians in the November nine-in-one elections accused of ties to gangsters, vote buying, and corruption.

Photos of the lobsters

As Taiwanese organized crime often does business with China, particularly given the proximity to China of Taiwan’s outlying islands, it would not surprise that this would also be an issue. But to this extent, links between pan-Blue politicians in outlying islands of Taiwan and cross-border crime would surprise.

Although it has been long discussed whether outlying islands of Taiwan that have strong economic ties with China could potentially fall under Chinese influence, the issue of collusion between local politicians and Chinese organized crime should also raise concerns. This perhaps proves an under-discussed issue, though there has been discussion in recent years of how organized crime groups in the Taiwanese mainland could potentially act as a fifth column for China in the event of an invasion. Furthermore, issues involving criminal naval activity should be concerning when concern about China’s grey zone tactics or the potential for China to take military action against Taiwan short of a full-scale invasion, such as a blockade, has been increasingly discussed. Whether there will be further discussion of this issue is to be seen.

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