29 April 2019

China’s South China Sea Strategy Takes a Hit as the US Navy Threatens to Get Tough on Beijing’s Sea Forces

Ryan Pickrell, “China’s South China Sea Strategy Takes a Hit as the US Navy Threatens to Get Tough on Beijing’s Sea Forces,” Business Insider, 29 April 2019.

  • The US Navy’s top admiral has warned China that the US will treat China’s coast guard and maritime militia the same as the People’s Liberation Army Navy, the Financial Times
  • “The US Navy will not be coerced,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson told his Chinese counterpart, Vice Adm. Shen Jinlong, in January.
  • The move is a blow to Chinese gray-zone aggression, a tactic China uses to exercise its will in the South China Sea and East China Sea without escalating to armed conflict.

The US Navy has reportedly warned China that it could treat the Chinese coast guard and the paramilitary fishing fleet known as the maritime militia the same as the Chinese navy — as combatants.

Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, “made it very clear” to his Chinese counterpart in January that “that the US Navy will not be coerced,” the Financial Times reported, citing an interview with the Navy’s top admiral. …

For years, the maritime militia operated under the cloak of plausible deniability.

“Make no mistake,” Andrew Erickson, an expert on the Chinese maritime militia at the Naval War College, told lawmakers in 2016, “These are state-organized, -developed, and -controlled forces operating under a direct military chain of command.”

Erickson has repeatedly urged the US military to call the maritime militia what it is — a paramilitary force, one trained and directed by the Chinese military.

The Department of Defense for the first time dragged this paramilitary force out of the shadows in 2017 in its annual report on Chinese military power. The Pentagon said the maritime militia is used to “enforce maritime claims and advance [China’s] interests in ways that are calculated to fall below the threshold of provoking conflict.”

In the 2018 report, the department said that the maritime militia “plays a major role in coercive activities to achieve China’s political goals without fighting.”

Now it appears the US military is taking things a step further. The Department of Defense has not only recognized the existence of these forces, but it is also threatening to treat these forces as combatants should they engage in such behavior. …