The United States said Monday it would step up cooperation with Vietnam and Taiwan among others to combat illegal fishing, a problem that environmentalists and Western nations increasingly attribute to China.
As a major UN conference opened in Portugal on restoring the planet's ailing oceans, US President Joe Biden signed a memorandum that aimed to step up coordination and enforcement within the US government against illegal fishing and the use of forced labor.
The White House said the United States also plans new engagement with Ecuador, Panama, Senegal, Taiwan and Vietnam on fighting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, dubbed "IUU" in environmental jargon.
An administration official said, without further detail, that the cooperation would include "capacity building" as part of a strategic plan.
The United States identified the five "not because they are the primary offenders of IUU fishing but because they have expressed a willingness to work with the United States to combat IUU fishing in their countries," she told reporters on customary condition of anonymity.
US officials generally avoid describing Taiwan as a country as the United States only recognizes Beijing, which considers the pro-Western self-governing democracy to be part of its territory.
Vietnam also has intense maritime disputes with Beijing, which claims large stretches of the South China Sea and has sought to enforce its own fishing rules.
Another official said that, while the new US effort does not target any country, China "is a leading contributor to IUU fishing worldwide and has impeded progress on the development of measures to combat IUU fishing and overfishing in international organizations."
A recent report by the Environmental Justice Foundation said that China by far has the world's largest fleet capable of fishing in distant waters and that there have been frequent complaints of abuse.
The British advocacy group said that crew members from Indonesia and Ghana in interviews recounted Chinese captains imposing excessive hours without pay, meting out threats or actual violence and providing low-quality food that led to diarrhea and other maladies.