Though China has put billions into funding various projects across Africa, many experts and locals maintain China’s true ambitions are to gain access to the region's extensive natural resources. Now, the environmental group Greenpeace has found that Chinese companies have been illegally fishing in various West African waters, which will likely inflame local tensions over Chinese overuse -- and in some instances abuse -- of the continent's natural resources.

A two-year investigation by Greenpeace found that Chinese vessels have been illegally operating in prohibited West African waters. The report found that at least 74 fishing vessels from the China National Fisheries Corporation were falsifying gross tonnage of their catches between 2000 and 2014.

“While China extended a hand in friendship during the Ebola outbreak, rogue Chinese companies were unlawfully exploiting West Africa’s marine environment. They were taking advantage of weak enforcement and supervision by local and Chinese authorities to the detriment of local fishermen and the environment,” Rashid Kang, the head of Greenpeace’s East Asia China Ocean Campaign, said in a statement.

Ahmed Diamé, Greenpeace’s Africa Ocean campaigner, explains that China’s fishing habits are destructive to West Africa’s marine resources. “While the Chinese government is starting to eliminate some of the most destructive fishing practices in its own waters, the loopholes in existing policies lead to a double standard in Africa,” he said, adding that China's Distant Water Fishing companies “plunder marine resources with relative impunity.”

While the problem is also the result of lax governance and regulations imposed by African governments, China’s so-called mutually beneficial partnership with Africa has been questioned before, as Chinese businesses continue to operate there. A 2014 survey by the Ethics Institute of South Africa polling people in South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya, found a persistent perception that Chinese businesses are not meeting the standards of environmental responsibility when operating in Africa.

“Chinese companies are implicated in instances of illegal logging, fishing and mining activities, but, in addition, environmental standards are not always taken into consideration,” the survey said. In response to such criticism, officials created the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation to address pollution control, biodiversity conservation, and forest and fishery protections. In practice, however, the forum has been slow to implement and enforce environmental protection mechanisms.

The survey found that there is an overall disagreement with the statement that “Chinese companies are environmentally responsible.” Nearly 50 percent of those surveyed disagreed with the statement, with only 11.4 percent agreeing. Of survey respondents to the statement that “Chinese businesses rectify damages they caused to the environment,” 35 percent said they strongly disagreed, while 27 percent simply disagreed.