04 July 2021

The Conor Kennedy Bookshelf: Pathbreaking Chinese-Language Insights on Militia, Marine Corps, Military Transport, and the Belt & Road

Conor M. Kennedy is a research associate at the U.S. Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI). At CMSI, his research focuses on Chinese military development and maritime strategy. He has also furnished dozens of annotated translations to support the work of analysts and decision-makers. Kennedy received his B.A. in Political Science and Chinese language from the University of Massachusetts – Amherst and his M.A. from the Johns Hopkins University – Nanjing University Center for Chinese and American Studies, with two years’ residence in China. Immediately prior to joining CMSI, in 2013–14, Kennedy was a National Security Education Program David L. Boren Fellow to China.


Andrew S. Erickson and Conor M. Kennedy, “Appendix II—China’s Maritime Militia: An Important Force Multiplier,” in Michael McDevitt, China as a Twenty-First-Century Naval Power: Theory, Practice, and Implications (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2020), 207–29.


China’s Maritime Militia

An Important Force Multiplier

Andrew S. Erickson and Conor M. Kennedy

People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM) is a state-organized, -developed, and -controlled force operating under a direct military chain of command to conduct Chinese state–sponsored activities.1 The PAFMM is locally organized and resourced but answers to the very top of China’s military bureaucracy: the commander in chief, Xi Jinping. While the PAFMM has been part of China’s militia system for decades, it is receiving greater emphasis today, because of its value in furthering China’s near-seas “rights and interests.”

Traditionally, the PAFMM has been a military force raised from civilian marine industry workers (e.g., fishermen). Personnel keep their “day jobs” but are organized and trained in exchange for benefits and can be called up as needed. Recently, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA— in this context, the military generally) has been adding a more professionalized, militarized vanguard to the PAFMM, recruiting former servicemen (by offering them high salaries) and launching formidable purpose-built vessels. This vanguard has no apparent interest in fishing.

This chapter focuses on the current organization and employment of Chinese maritime-militia organizations. It first puts this force into historical context by surveying the PAFMM’s background and its changing role in China’s armed forces. Next, it examines the PAFMM’s current contributions toward China’s goal of becoming a great maritime power, in both old and new mission areas. The remaining sections will address specific maritime-militia modes of command and control, intelligence gathering, organization and training and will suggest possible scenarios and implications.

Decades-Long History

China’s militia system originated before the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) came to power, but the system of recruiting numerous state- supported maritime militias from coastal populations was not fully implemented until the communists began to exercise greater control of the coastline in the 1950s. This segment of China’s population had been relatively isolated from the turmoil of the Civil War; these regions had been under either Japanese or Republic of China (ROC) control in the decades before CCP rule was established. The CCP targeted the fishing communities by creating fishing collectives and work units, enacting strict organizational and social controls, and conducting political education. Factors motivating and shaping this transformation included:

  • The PLA’s early use of civilian vessels after Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Party decamped to Taiwan.
  • The fact that fishermen constituted the bulk of China’s experienced mariners.
  • The requirement during the 1950s and 1960s to defend against Nationalist incursions along the coast.
  • Increasingly frequent confrontations with other states’ fishing and naval vessels as China’s fishermen gradually began to fish farther offshore.
  • The transformation of many shore-based coastal-defense militias to the at-sea maritime militia.

The PAFMM has played significant roles in manifold military campaigns and coercive incidents over the years:

  • In the 1950s, support of the PLA’s island seizure campaigns off the mainland coast
  • In the 1960s, securing of China’s coast against Nationalist infiltrations
  • In 1974, seizure of the western portion of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea from South Vietnam
  • In 1976, harassment of “foreign” naval ships east of the Zhoushan Archipelago (south of Shanghai)
  • In 1978, presence mission in the territorial sea of the Senkaku Islands
  • In 1995, Mischief Reef encounter with the Philippines stemming from the occupation and development of that reef
  • In 2009, harassment of USNS Impeccable
  • In 2012, Scarborough Shoal stand-off with the Philippines
  • In 2014, blockade of Philippine-occupied Second Thomas Shoal
  • In 2014, repulse of Vietnamese vessels from disputed waters surrounding the China National Offshore Oil Corporation’s (CNOOC’s) oil rig HYSY 981
  • In 2014, harassment of USNS Howard O. Lorenzen
  • In 2016, large surge of fishing craft near the Senkaku Islands
  • In 2017, envelopment of Philippine-claimed Sandy Cay in the northern Spratly Islands.2 … … …


About the Author

During his 34-year Navy career, Rear Admiral Michael McDevitt, USN (Ret.) had four at sea commands including an aircraft carrier battle group. He was a Pacific Ocean sailor with experience in all the waters he has written about. He began a 30-year involvement with U.S. security policy and strategy in Asia when he was assigned to the Office of Secretary of Defense in 1990 as Director and then as Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia. This professional interest continues to this day.


Xi Jinping has made his ambitions for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) perfectly clear, there is no mystery what he wants, first, that China should become a “great maritime power” and secondly, that the PLA “become a world-class armed force by 2050.” He wants this latter objective to be largely completed by 2035. China as a Twenty-First-Century Naval Power focuses on China’s navy and how it is being transformed to satisfy the “world class” goal.

Beginning with an exploration of why China is seeking to become such a major maritime power, author Michael McDevitt first explores the strategic rationale behind Xi’s two objectives: China’s reliance on foreign trade and overseas interests such as China’s Belt and Road strategy. In turn this has created concerns within the senior levels of China’s military about the vulnerability of its overseas interests and maritime life-lines: a major theme. McDevitt dubs this China’s “sea lane anxiety” and traces how this has required the PLA Navy to evolve from a “near seas”-focused navy to one that has global reach; a “blue water navy.” He details how quickly this transformation has taken place, thanks to a patient step-by-step approach and abundant funding. The more than 10 years of anti-piracy patrols in the far reaches of the Indian Ocean has acted as a learning curve accelerator to “blue water” status.

McDevitt then explores the PLA Navy’s role in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. He provides a detailed assessment of what the PLAN will be expected to do if Beijing chooses to attack Taiwan, potentially triggering combat with America’s “first responders” in East Asia, especially the U.S. Seventh Fleet and U.S. Fifth Air Force.

He conducts a close exploration of how the PLA Navy fits into China’s campaign plan aimed at keeping reinforcing U.S. forces at arm’s length (what the Pentagon calls anti-access and area denial [A2/AD]) if war has broken out over Taiwan, or because of attacks on U.S. allies and friends that live in the shadow of China. McDevitt does not know how Xi defines “world class” but the evidence from the past 15 years of building a blue water force has already made the PLA Navy the second largest globally capable navy in the world. This book concludes with a forecast of what Xi’s vision of a “world-class navy” might look like in the next fifteen years when the 2035 deadline is reached.


“Rear Admiral Mike McDevitt delivers the definitive study on China’s ambitious quest for greatness at sea. Armed with decades of operational experience, he renders persuasive judgments about China’s nautical ascent. For those looking for an authoritative yet accessible appraisal of the Chinese navy, this is it.”

— Toshi Yoshihara, senior fellow, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, co-author of Red Star over the Pacific: China’s Challenge to U.S. Maritime Strategy, 2nd ed.

“In order to counter China’s willful and persistent challenges against the stabilizing PAX-AMERICANA global framework, an accurate and comprehensive understanding of China’s security and naval strategies is required. In this context, RADM Mike McDevitt’s superb book is a ‘must-read’ for naval/security specialists, as well as national leaders and thinkers.”

— Yoji Koda, Former Commander in Chief, JMSDF Fleet

“Admiral Michael McDevitt has written an important book about China as a world power. Few Americans possess his knowledge of maritime strategy and China. He has combined this knowledge with his background as a historian and a sea-going officer with more thirty years’ experience. China as a Twenty-First-Century Naval Power is a must read for military officers, China specialists, and historians.”

— Captain Bernard D. Cole, USN (Ret.), Professor Emeritus, National War College, author of China’s Quest for Great Power: Ships, Oil, and Foreign Policy

“Admiral McDevitt has written the definitive book on China’s maritime ambitions and its ability to fulfill them. His years of careful research following a career of high-level Navy and Defense Department positions are blended into a carefully detailed and documented, yet practical and sensible examination of China’s security shift from land defense to control of the seas. The discussions of Taiwan and the South China Sea are especially informative and sobering. The implications are judicious and very clear – the United States must urgently and intelligently increase its own maritime and air capability.”

— Dennis C. Blair, former Commander in Chief, US Pacific Command and former Director of National Intelligence

“Rear Admiral McDevitt has studied the Chinese navy from the decks of destroyers in the South China Sea to the corridors of leading think tanks around the world. His expertise is legendary, and this new book is a commanding analysis of the course China will steer over the coming decades in their voyage to become the leading global maritime power.”

— Adm. James Stavridis, USN (Ret.), 16th Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and author of Sailing True North: Ten Admirals and the Voyage of Character

“As he explores the rationale for China’s unprecedented accretion of maritime power and quest for a ‘world-class’ navy, McDevitt provides perceptive insights into Beijing’s obsessive pursuit of sea-lane security, regional-hegemony and, eventually, global-dominance. The vivid future-scenarios, painted by this former practitioner of seapower, could prove prophetic, and deserve our closest attention.”

— Adm. Arun Prakash (Ret.), former Indian Navy Chief and Chairman, Chiefs of Staff

Product details

Publisher : Naval Institute Press (October 15, 2020)

Subject: Fall 2020 Catalog | China and the Asia Pacific

Item Weight : 2.5 pounds/40 oz

Product Dimensions: 9 × 6 × 1 in

Hardcover : 320 pages

Illustrations: 5 maps, 7 tables, 5 b/w illustrations

ISBN-10 : 1682475352

ISBN-13 : 978-1682475355


Isaac B. KardonConor M. Kennedy, and Peter A. DuttonGwadar: China’s Potential Strategic Strongpoint in PakistanChina Maritime Report 7 (Newport, RI: Naval War College China Maritime Studies Institute, August 2020).

China Maritime Report No. 7 offers a detailed examination of China’s infrastructure project in the port of Gwadar, Pakistan. Written by Dr. Peter Dutton, Dr. Isaac Kardon, and Mr. Conor Kennedy, this report is the second in a series of studies looking at China’s interest in Indian Ocean ports and its “strategic strongpoints” there (战略支点). People’s Republic of China (PRC) officials, military officers, and civilian analysts use the strategic strongpoint concept to describe certain strategically valuable foreign ports with terminals and commercial zones owned and operated by Chinese firms.

Gwadar is an inchoate “strategic strongpoint” in Pakistan that may one day serve as a major platform for China’s economic, diplomatic, and military interactions across the northern Indian Ocean region. As of August 2020, it is not a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) base, but rather an underdeveloped and underutilized commercial multipurpose port built and operated by Chinese companies in service of broader PRC foreign and domestic policy objectives. Foremost among PRC objectives for Gwadar are (1) to enable direct transport between China and the Indian Ocean, and (2) to anchor an effort to stabilize western China by shoring up insecurity on its periphery. To understand these objectives, this case study first analyzes the characteristics and functions of the port, then evaluates plans for hinterland transport infrastructure connecting it to markets and resources. We then examine the linkage between development in Pakistan and security in Xinjiang. Finally, we consider the military potential of the Gwadar site, evaluating why it has not been utilized by the PLA then examining a range of uses that the port complex may provide for Chinese naval operations.

Key Findings

  • Chinese analysts view Gwadar as a top choice for establishing a new overseas strategic strongpoint, owing to its prime geographic location and strong Sino-Pakistani ties. Many PLA analysts consider Gwadar to be a suitable site for naval support.
  • China’s interest in Gwadar—and in Pakistan’s economic development in general—does not depend primarily on commercial returns. Instead, the Gwadar project is best understood as a mode of strategic investment in China’s internal and external security.
  • Externally, Gwadar’s principal strategic purpose for China is to become an “exit to the ocean” (出海口)—that is, a direct route via Chinese infrastructure to secure reliable access to the strategic space and resources of the northern Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf.
  • Internally, Gwadar is an extension of China’s national security and development policies. Beijing seeks to develop commercial linkages between western China, Pakistan, and Central Asia to promote economic growth and thus manage perceived risks to social stability in Xinjiang.
  • Extensive transport infrastructure is fundamental to China’s overall plans for Pakistan. Yet while the planned transport corridor is often discussed as though it were operational, very little modern infrastructure has been built beyond a few roads and the port itself.
  • The inland markets and resources of Pakistan (and Afghanistan) present some commercial prospects, but these have not yet borne fruit in part due to severe insecurity.
  • Security measures may mitigate some risks to Chinese projects and personnel, but Gwadar and its hinterlands are unlikely to be secure enough to become a major commercial entrepôt.
  • Gwadar is not a PLA base, but it is used extensively by the Pakistan Navy (PN). The PN operates frigates and patrol vessels bought from China and will also field Chinese-made submarines. Their facilities, parts, and technicians may be readily employed for some of the PLAN fleet.
  • Gwadar’s port facilities could support the PLAN’s largest vessels. Beyond the pier, Gwadar possesses a sizeable laydown yard for marshalling military equipment and materials.
  • Gwadar will not necessarily have utility as a base in a wartime scenario. The most critical factor informing this view is the apparent lack of political commitment between China and Pakistan to provide mutual military support during times of crisis or conflict.
  • If the infrastructure projects mature, Gwadar could become a key peacetime replenishment or transfer point for PLA equipment and personnel. Prepositioning parts, supplies, and other materials at Gwadar would be a productive use of the port and airfield facilities.

Series Overview

This China Maritime Report on Gwadar is the second in a series of case studies on China’s Indian Ocean “strategic strongpoints” (战略支点). People’s Republic of China (PRC) officials, military officers, and civilian analysts use the strategic strongpoint concept to describe certain strategically valuable foreign ports with terminals and commercial zones owned and operated by Chinese firms. Each case study analyzes a different port on the Indian Ocean, selected to capture geographic, commercial, and strategic variation. Each employs the same analytic method, drawing on Chinese official sources, scholarship, and industry reporting to present a descriptive account of the port, its transport infrastructure, the markets and resources it accesses, and its naval and military utility.

The case studies illuminate the various functions of overseas strategic strongpoint ports in China’s Indian Ocean strategy. While the ports and associated infrastructure projects vary across key characteristics, all ports share certain distinctive qualities: (1) strategic location, positioned astride major sea lines of communication (SLOCs) and/or near vital maritime chokepoints; (2) high-level coordination among Chinese party-state officials, state-owned enterprises, and private firms; (3) comprehensive commercial scope, including Chinese-led development of associated rail, road, and pipeline infrastructure and efforts to promote trade, financing, industry, resource extraction, and inland markets; and (4) potential or actual military utilization, with dual-use functions that can enable both economic and military activities.

Ports are a key enabler for China’s economic, political, and potentially military expansion across the globe. As China’s overseas economic activity grows, so too have demands on the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to secure PRC citizens, investments, and supply lines abroad. Official PLA missions now include “safeguarding the security of China’s overseas interests,” but “deficiencies in overseas operations and support” persist. Yet with the notable exception of the sole overseas PLA Navy (PLAN) base at Djibouti, all of the facilities examined in this series are ostensibly commercial. Notably, the establishment of the Djibouti base followed many years of Chinese investment at the adjacent commercial port and sustained attention into resources and markets inland.

We should not assume that Djibouti is a model for other future bases. Instead, China’s strategic strongpoint model should be understood as an evolving alternative to the familiar model of formal overseas basing. With strongpoints, trade, investment, and diplomacy with the host country remain the principal functions. However, the strongpoint creates conditions of possibility for the PLAN to establish a network of supply, logistics, and intelligence hubs. We are already observing this nascent network in operation across the Indian Ocean, and this series seeks to understand its key nodes.


Peter A. Dutton, Isaac B. Kardon, and Conor M. KennedyDjibouti: China’s First Overseas Strategic StrongpointChina Maritime Report 6 (Newport, RI: Naval War College China Maritime Studies Institute, April 2020).

China’s first overseas strategic strongpoint at Djibouti is a secure commercial foothold on the African continent and a military platform for expanding PLA operations in the Indian Ocean and beyond.

This China Maritime Report on Djibouti is the first in a series of case studies on China’s “overseas strategic strongpoints” (海外战略支点). The strategic strongpoint concept has no formal definition, but is used by People’s Republic of China (PRC) officials and analysts to describe foreign ports with special strategic and economic value that host terminals and commercial zones operated by Chinese firms.

Series Introduction

This China Maritime Report on Djibouti is the first in a series of case studies on China’s “overseas strategic strongpoints” (海外战略支点). The strategic strongpoint concept has no formal definition, but is used by People’s Republic of China (PRC) officials and analysts to describe foreign ports with special strategic and economic value that host terminals and commercial zones operated by Chinese firms. Each case study examines the characteristics and functions of port projects developed and operated by Chinese companies across the Indian Ocean region. The distinctive features of these projects are: (1) their strategic locations, positioned astride major sea lines of communication (SLOCs) and clustered near vital maritime chokepoints; (2) the comprehensive nature of Chinese investments and operations, involving coordination among state-owned enterprises and private firms to construct not only the port, but rail, road, and pipeline infrastructure, and further, to promote finance, trade, industry, and resource extraction in inland markets; and (3) their fused civilian and military functions, serving as platforms for economic, military, and diplomatic interactions.

Strategic strongpoints advance a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership objective to become a “strong maritime power” (海洋)—which requires, inter alia, the development of a strong marine economy and the capability to protect “Chinese rights and interests” in the maritime domain. With the notable exception of the sole overseas People’s Liberation Army (PLA) base at Djibouti, all of the facilities examined in this series are ostensibly commercial. Even the Chinese presence in Djibouti has some major commercial motivations (addressed in detail in this study). However, China’s strategic strongpoint model integrates China’s various commercial and strategic interests, facilitating Chinese trade and investment with the host country while also helping the PLA establish a network of supply, logistics, and intelligence hubs across the Indian Ocean and beyond.

Report Summary

This report analyzes PRC economic and military interests and activities in Djibouti. The small, east African nation is the site of the PLA’s first overseas military base, but also serves as a major commercial hub for Chinese firms—especially in the transport and logistics industry. We explain the synthesis of China’s commercial and strategic goals in Djibouti through detailed examination of the development and operations of commercial ports and related infrastructure. Employing the “Shekou Model” of comprehensive port zone development, Chinese firms have flocked to Djibouti with the intention of transforming it into a gateway to the markets and resources of Africa—especially landlocked Ethiopia—and a transport hub for trade between Europe and Asia. With diplomatic and financial support from Beijing, PRC firms have established a China-friendly business ecosystem and a political environment that proved conducive to the establishment of a permanent military presence. The Gulf of Aden anti-piracy mission that justified the original PLA deployment in the region is now only one of several missions assigned to Chinese armed forces at Djibouti, a contingent that includes marines and special forces. The PLA is broadly responsible for the security of China’s “overseas interests,” for which Djibouti provides essential logistical support. China’s first overseas strategic strongpoint at Djibouti is a secure commercial foothold on the African continent and a military platform for expanding PLA operations in the Indian Ocean and beyond.


Conor M. Kennedy, Civil Transport in PLA Power Projection, China Maritime Report 4 (Newport, RI: Naval War College China Maritime Studies Institute, December 2019).


The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has ambitious goals for its power projection capabilities. Aside from preparing for the possibility of using force to resolve Beijing’s territorial claims in East Asia, it is also charged with protecting China’s expanding “overseas interests.” These national objectives require the PLA to be able to project significant combat power beyond China’s borders. To meet these needs, the PLA is building organic logistics support capabilities such as large naval auxiliaries and transport aircraft. But it is also turning to civilian enterprises to supply its transportation needs. Since 2012, the PLA has taken major steps to improve its ability to leverage civilian carriers as part of the strategic projection support forces in support of military operations. It has developed strategic projection support ship fleets, comprising civilian-operated roll-on/roll-off, container, tanker, and semi-submersible ships. It has also integrated civilian aviation enterprises into strategic projection support aircraft fleets. To facilitate the staging of military forces for projection beyond China’s borders, the PLA has improved its ability to use China’s modern rail networks and trucking fleet. The PLA has also developed its first strategic projection base, a specialized center of logistics expertise intended to serve PLA power projection requirements through civil-military fusion. To be sure, China’s strategic projection support forces must overcome several challenges before they can fully meet the needs of the PLA. In some cases, training is lax and national defense standards are outdated, or not fully implemented. The PLA itself, which is currently in the midst of a major reform, must also improve its ability to integrate civilian carriers into its combat and support operations. However, the PLA is already taking steps to overcome these challenges, and the PLA logistics community is energetically developing new approaches to better leverage China’s enormous civil transportation sector to meet Beijing’s current and future power projection requirements.


The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has undergone significant transformation over the past several years through reforms enacted by Chairman Xi Jinping. Accompanying major changes in senior leadership, organization, and force structure are growing efforts by the PLA to boost its power projection capabilities. Much analysis of Chinese military development tends to focus on the emblematic platforms of long-range power projection: large warships and military aircraft.1

But the PLA also relies on civilian carriers—ships, airplanes, trains, and trucks—to support its power projection needs. Since the 18th Party Congress (November 2012), the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has taken major steps to improve its ability to leverage civilian carriers to serve the Chinese military. This is an important, but understudied, aspect of China’s military development.

This report seeks to help close this gap in the literature. It examines efforts by the PLA to strengthen what it calls “new-type strategic projection forces.”2 Aside from the PLA’s own organic lift capabilities, this includes civilian transport systems and platforms that could be leveraged in a crisis or conflict. Much of this effort has been aimed at improving the PLA’s ability to project power over water and across long distances—to the frontiers of Chinese-claimed territory in maritime East Asia, and to countries and oceans around the world where Chinese “overseas interests” are concentrated. These developments therefore have huge implications for the U.S. and its allies and partners in this period of growing great power competition.

This report comprises four main parts. Part 1 introduces the PLA concept of strategic projection and the drivers behind the PLA’s recent prioritization of strategic power projection force development. Part 2 outlines the legal and organizational foundations for PLA employment of civilian carriers for military purposes. Part 3—the bulk of the report—describes force development in strategic sea lift, strategic airlift, rail and road projection, and strategic projection bases, focusing heavily on support capabilities derived from civilian carriers. The report concludes with a discussion of challenges the PLA must overcome before it can fully leverage civilian carriers to achieve the power projection capabilities it desires.

China’s Strategic Power Projection Needs

The PLA defines “strategic power projection” (战略投送) as “actions to comprehensively use a variety of transportation forces to insert forces into an area of operations or crisis in order to achieve specific strategic objectives.”3 These transportation forces include organic PLA transportation supporting forces, such as PLA Air Force (PLAAF) Y-20 transport aircraft or the PLA Navy’s (PLAN) Type-071 Landing Platform Dock (LPD) vessels. They also comprise national civilian transportation resources—the focus of this report.

Strategic projection capabilities are vital to the success of any likely military scenario involving China. In East Asia, the PLA must be prepared to project power over water in order to seize and defend disputed islands, including Taiwan. To achieve these aims, the PLA could be asked to fight what it calls an “informatized limited war” (信息化局部战争—sometimes translated as “informatized local war”).4 It must also be prepared for a range of other combat operations along its periphery, including an intervention in North Korea.

But China’s interests are not confined to maritime East Asia. The need to defend China’s expanding “overseas interests” (海外利益) is often cited as a key driver behind efforts to augment the PLA’s ability to project power over long distances.5 China’s overseas interests include the security of Chinese citizens and property in foreign lands and the security of sea lines of communication.6 Indeed, experts in the PLA are increasingly advocating for the improvement of “cross-border, transoceanic long-range projection capabilities” (跨境越洋远程投送能力).7

Power projection capabilities also serve valuable strategic purposes even when they are not used. Demonstrating the ability to project power beyond China’s borders helps influence the strategic calculus of foreign decision makers. It is therefore integral to deterrence, crisis control, and war prevention, and maintenance of the initiative in almost any scenario.8

China’s strategic projection needs are not static. Indeed, they seem to be increasing on the basis of an explicit timeline. This timeline was outlined by the chief of staff of the Central Military Commission’s (CMC) Transport and Projection Bureau Liu Jiasheng in a February 2019 article.9 Liu describes three phases:

  • In the short-term, the military must be ready to fight and win an informatized limited war in the maritime direction. To this end, the PLA will focus on greater development of strategic sea and air lift forces. Efforts will include implementing technological advancements in self- loading trucks, fast passenger roll-on/roll-off (RO-RO) ships, large strategic transport aircraft, unmanned platforms, and precision projection systems.
  • In the medium-term, the PLA will focus on developing the ability to project power to “countries and regions along the ‘Belt and Road’ and areas crucially related to key interests around the globe.” The focus of the PLA’s preparation for military struggle will be “fighting and winning an overseas informatized limited war or controlling a major crisis.” To this end, the PLA will develop unmanned projection systems on land, sea and air, with significant focus on precision air projection capabilities.
  • In the long-term, the PLA will primarily focus on “global projection.” It will rely on China’s overseas bases and air and space multi-dimensional projection systems to meet the rapid reaction requirements of transportation projection capabilities, in the event of a war anywhere around the globe. Future developments will include high-speed cargo rail, high-performance sea and air platforms, hypersonic transport aircraft, coordinated robotics and unmanned systems in automated transportation systems, and intelligent unmanned transport decision- making systems.10

To improve strategic projection capabilities, the PLA is constructing its own strategic lift forces, including heavy lift aircraft, military helicopters, large transport ships, amphibious ships, and replenishment ships.11 The PLA began developing its organic strategic lift capabilities relatively late compared to other great powers. Chinese military leaders believe the PLA has a long way to go before it can meet its strategic projection requirements.

To support strategic projection, the PLA is also striving to enhance civil-military fusion in the nation’s maturing transportation infrastructure. The role of civilian carriers in strategic projection operations has become a major area of development in the military. In large part, this is driven by a desire to compensate for shortcomings in the PLA’s own organic lift capabilities. Civilian transportation carriers organized for military transportation support are considered part of the PLA’s strategic projection support forces (战略投送支援力量). … … …


Conor M. Kennedy, “Strategic Strong Points and Chinese Naval Strategy,” Jamestown China Brief 19.6 (22 March 2019).


On August 1, 2017, China opened its first overseas military base, in the East African nation of Djibouti. This was a landmark event that raised a whole host of questions for Indo-Pacific states: Is Djibouti the first of other bases to come? If so, how many? Where will China build them? How will they be used? Where do they fit into Chinese military strategy? Chinese policymakers and analysts are pondering these same questions. However, they are employing concepts unique to Chinese strategic discourse, and it is essential to grasp these concepts in order to understand how Beijing intends to project military power abroad.

For the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the term “overseas military base” (haiwai junshi jidi, 海外军事基地) carries significant historical baggage: foreign imperialists built them on the soil of other countries in order to colonize and exploit them. On the other hand, Chinese policymakers have come to recognize the value of maintaining locations overseas where the Chinese military—above all, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN)—can concentrate resources needed to support operations abroad. To distinguish Chinese actions from the predatory deeds of Western and Japanese imperialists, Chinese military thinkers have adopted a specialized term: the “strategic strong point” (zhanlüe zhidian, 战略支点). [1] A careful analysis of the Chinese use of this concept offers valuable insights into Beijing’s strategic intentions outside of East Asia.

Understanding the “Strategic Strong Point” Concept

The term “strategic strong point” has different meanings, depending on the context in which it is used. In some cases it refers to a quasi-alliance relationship; in other cases, it is used in the context of overseas ports (Journal of Strategy and Decision-Making, No. 2, 2017). The 2013 Science of Military Strategy describes them as locations that “provide support for overseas military operations or act as a forward base for deploying military forces overseas” (Military Science Publishing, December 2013). The PLAN’s new facility in Djibouti has been called China’s first “overseas strategic strong point” (World Affairs, July 26, 2017).

The term is not just applied to Chinese bases: U.S. bases in the Pacific and Indian Oceans are also sometimes described as strategic strong points, and Chinese observers have spent considerable time examining these bases in order to inform their own thinking on developing overseas strategic strong points. Between 2016 and 2017, the PLAN’s official magazine Navy Today ran a series of articles, each one discussing the features and strategic roles of individual U.S. bases. One refers to Pearl Harbor as a “strategic strong point in America’s forward defense,” without which its defensive lines would be limited to the homeland (Navy Today, June 24 2016). Two others describe the roles of Diego Garcia and Guam as strategic strong points critical to Washington’s global strategy. [2]

However, Chinese experts are quick to point out that China’s strategic strong points are fundamentally different from those of other states. They state that China’s strategic strong points offer benefits to host states and provide them with public security goods. Moreover, these sites will not be used to conduct offensive operations, as is the case with the overseas bases of other states. [3]

The Need for Strategic Strong Points

Strategic strong points will improve the Chinese military’s ability to operate overseas. Currently, the PLAN conducts the vast majority of the PRC’s military missions abroad. The PLAN serves two primary functions: protecting China’s sea lines of communication (SLOCs), and safeguarding China’s overseas interests. Both require forward presence in strategically important areas of the Indo-Pacific. According to the Science of Military Strategy, an expansion of the geographic scope of naval operations requires the establishment of replenishment points and “various forms of limited force presence” (Science of Military Strategy, December 2013).

Strategic strong points fulfill these demands. An engineer at the Academy of Military Science’s Institute of Logistics explains that overseas strategic strong points will support the military’s long-range projection capabilities by effectively shortening resupply intervals and expanding the range of support for Chinese forces operating abroad (National Defense, December 2017). However, replenishment ships alone cannot meet the Navy’s needs. As the deputy chief of the PLAN Operations Department wrote in 2010, personnel relief, equipment servicing, and the uncertainties of foreign berthing facilities were limiting factors in the long-term regularization of overseas operations. Chinese facilities in overseas ports are the next step in building an “overseas support system.” [4]

PLAN Commander Adm. Wu Shengli talked about the importance of strategic strong points in December 2016, during an event commemorating the eighth anniversary of China’s anti-piracy operation off the Horn of Africa. Wu Shengli pointed out that “overseas strategic strong point construction has provided a new support for escort operations… We must give full play to the supporting role of the overseas support system to carry out larger scale missions in broader areas and to shape the situation.” [5]

Establishing several strategic strong points near crisis regions is integral to ensuring the sustained and effective use of forces in these roles. [6] When incidents and crises erupted in the past, efforts to protect China’s overseas interests were highly reactive. Strategic strong points allow China to gradually shift its posture to stabilize and control situations before they become crises. They might even play a role in stabilizing local governments and economies, and in ensuring civil order (International Herald Tribune, October 13 2015).

Accurate and timely intelligence is vital to effective operations, and PLA thinkers believe that strategic strong points will serve intelligence support functions. [7] Two authors from the PLA Equipment Academy write about the PLAN’s development of a “sea & space battlefield versatile situation picture” that integrates various intelligence sources to provide real-time visualized information support for the PLAN’s overseas actions. This system, they state, will support the PLAN’s defensive strategy in its strategic strong points, maritime passages, and core interest areas (Journal of Equipment Academy, April 2017). … … …


Andrew S. Erickson and Ryan D. Martinson, eds., China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2019).

As with the previous six volumes in our “Studies in Chinese Maritime Development” series, an Amazon Kindle edition is available.

Reprinted in Japanese as: アンドリュー・S・エリクソン (編集), ライアン・D・マーティンソン (編集), 五味 睦佳 (翻訳), 大野 慶二 (翻訳), 木村 初夫 (翻訳), 五島 浩司 (翻訳), 杉本 正彦 (翻訳), 武居 智久 (翻訳), 山本 勝也 (翻訳[Andrew S. Erickson (Editor), Ryan D. Martinson (Editor), Gumi Mutsuka (Translator), Ohno Keiji (Translator), Kimura Hatsuo (Translator), Goto Koji (Translator), Sugimoto Masahiko (Translator), Tomohisa Takei (translator), and Katsuya Yamamoto (translator)]; 中国の海洋強国戦略:グレーゾーン作戦と展開 (日本語) [China’s Maritime Power Strategy: Strategy and Deployment in Gray Zone (Japanese translation of China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations)] (Tokyo: 原書房 [Hara Shobo Press], 2020).

  • アンドリュー・S・エリクソン, ライアン・D・マーティンソン [Andrew S. Erickson and Ryan D. Martinson], 序論 「砲煙なき戦争」” [Introduction: “War Without Gun Smoke”—China’s Paranaval Challenge in the Maritime Gray Zone], 19-32.
  • ジョシュア・ヒッキー, アンドリュー・S・エリクソン, ヘンリー・ホルスト [Joshua Hickey, Andrew S. Erickson, and Henry Holst], “第7章 中国の海上法執行海上プラットフォーム” [Chapter 7: China Maritime Law Enforcement Surface Platforms: Order of Battle, Capabilities, and Trends], 128-53.
  • ライアン・D・マーティンソン, アンドリュー・S・エリクソン [Ryan D. Martinson and Andrew S. Erickson], 結論 グレーゾーンにおける米国のシーパワーの決定的使用のための選択肢[Conclusion: Options for the Definitive Use of U.S. Sea Power in the Gray Zone], 315-27.

China’s maritime “gray zone” operations represent a new challenge for the U.S. Navy and the sea services of our allies, partners, and friends in maritime East Asia. There, Beijing is waging operations conducted to alter the status quo without resorting to war, an approach that some Chinese sources term “War without Gun Smoke” (一场没有硝烟的战争). Already winning in important areas, China could gain far more if left unchecked. One of China’s greatest advantages thus far has been foreign difficulty in understanding the situation, let alone determining an effective response. With contributions from some of the world’s leading subject matter experts, this volume aims to close that gap by explaining the forces and doctrines driving China’s paranaval expansion.

The book therefore covers in-depth China’s major maritime forces beyond core gray-hulled Navy units, with particular focus on China’s second and third sea forces: the “white-hulled” Coast Guard and “blue-hulled” Maritime Militia. Increasingly, these paranaval forces are on the frontlines of China’s seaward expansion, operating in the “gray zone” between war and peace: where the greatest action is. Beijing works constantly in peacetime (and possibly in crises short of major combat operations with the United States) to “win without fighting” and thereby to further its unresolved land feature and maritime claims in the Near Seas (Yellow, East, and South China Seas). There is an urgent need for greater understanding of this vital yet under-explored topic: this book points the way.

Volume 7 in Studies in Chinese Maritime Development series

March 2019 | 336 pp. | 6 x 9 | China and the Asia-Pacific

Maps | Hardcover

ASIN: 1591146933

ISBN-13: 978-1591146933


As Washington’s new National Security Strategy emphasizes, China is engaged in continuous competition with the United States–neither fully “at peace” nor “at war.” Per this national guidance, the U.S. Navy must raise its competitive game to meet that challenge, in part by addressing the potential risks to American interests and values posed by all three Chinese sea forces: the Navy, Coast Guard, and Maritime Militia. In terms of ship numbers, each is the largest of its type in the world.

China’s maritime “gray zone” operations represent a new challenge for the U.S. Navy and the sea services of our allies, partners, and friends in maritime East Asia. There, Beijing is waging what some Chinese sources term a “war without gunsmoke.” One of China’s greatest advantages thus far is the difficulty for foreign powers to understand the situation, let alone determine an effective response. With contributions from some of the world’s leading subject matter experts, this volume aims to close that gap by explaining the forces and doctrines driving China’s paranaval expansion.

This book covers China’s major maritime forces beyond core gray-hulled Navy units, with particular focus on China’s second and third sea forces: the “white-hulled” Coast Guard and “blue-hulled” Maritime Militia. Increasingly, these paranaval forces are on the frontlines of China’s seaward expansion, operating in the “gray zone” between war and peace.

Chinese behavior at sea harms U.S. interests both directly and indirectly. As a seafaring state, America demands maximal access to the world’s oceans within the constraints of international law. Actions that impede that access violate America’s maritime freedom. China harms U.S. interests indirectly when it violates the legitimate maritime freedom and maritime rights of its allies and partners. Such acts devalue Washington’s commitments to its friends and shake the foundations of our alliance system–the true source of America’s global influence. Moreover, China’s efforts to curtail and infringe upon both the maritime freedom of all nations including the United States and the maritime rights of its neighbors undermines the rules-based international order. This volume concludes by examining America’s response to Beiing’s gray zone coercion and suggests what U.S. policymakers can do to counter it.


“How can the lightly armed white-hulled and blue-hulled ships of China’s coast guard and maritime militia defeat the heavily armed gray-hulled navies of the U.S. and its allies? Nowhere is this urgent question explored more exhaustively than in this incisive book. It should serve as a wake-up call for the American military.”

—J. William Middendorf, former Secretary of the Navy

“Many fret and opine about China’s gray zone behavior and strategy, yet few know and understand what is at play and in play in that space between peace and war. China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations is a timely and extraordinarily valuable resource for both new and experienced operators and policymakers who will navigate the gray zone challenge in the years ahead.”

—Admiral Gary Roughead, U.S. Navy (Ret.), Hoover Institution Fellow and former Chief of Naval Operations

“Who needs the CIA? Maritime competition represents the front lines in the struggle for influence between China and the United States. Gray hulls are not the only way Beijing tries to shift the balance. China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations provides as comprehensive an assessment of the challenge as one might expect from Langley.”

—James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., The Heritage Foundation

“Andrew Erickson and Ryan Martinson have established themselves as two of America’s most knowledgeable analysts of the PLA Navy and China’s naval strategy. Their new work on China’s maritime gray zone operations deepens our understanding of Chinese maritime operations that are neither peace nor war but that could have a profound impact on the western Pacific, Japan, and the role of the U.S. in Asia.”

—Stephen P. Rosen, Beton Michael Kaneb Professor of National Security and Military Affairs, Harvard University  

“An informative and striking book, which provides many eye-opening thoughts on China’s crafty and worrisome ‘gray zone’ strategy. A great focus is placed on practical countermeasures…. A good guideline for the planning and operations of frontline sailors.”

—Vice Admiral Yoji Koda, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) (Ret.) and former Commander-in-Chief, JMSDF Fleet

“This is an excellent account of how China is using its navy, coast guard, and maritime militia to expand its control and use of adjoining sea areas and exclude others from their use of sea areas legally recognized.”

—Andrew W. Marshall, retired, former Director of Net Assessment, Department of Defense


“a real contribution to our understanding of China’s gray zone operations… provides an excellent assessment of China’s paranaval capabilities. …the chapters in Parts 2 and 3 of the volume are strongly recommended for their clear and in-depth treatment of the history, organization, operations, and assets of the China Coast Guard and the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia. …the authors…provide sound assessments of China’s policy, institutional, and material advantages and limitations in conducting gray zone operations. …recommended to both specialists and nonspecialists.”

Dr. John W. Tai, The Air Force Journal of Indo-Pacific Affairs 3.1 (Spring 2020): 95-96.

China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations is the seventh edited volume in the Studies in Chinese Maritime Development series published in collaboration with the U.S. Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute. In common with its predecessors this book has been produced to a consistently high standard. Collectively the series represents some of the leading available scholarship on China’s maritime power. This most recent volume is both focused and timely, addressing China’s strategy of coercively manipulating changes to the geopolitical status quo in East Asian waters via the employment of maritime operations in the ‘gray zone.’ … Well-conceived maps and diagrams complete the whole. …the book tells an overarching story of the success of China’s maritime gray zone operations in fulfilling its regional objectives thus far, especially in the South China Sea. This collection is without doubt the most comprehensive source available on the subject, providing a uniformly excellent quality of scholarship. Given the very recent changes outlined in the book, this is a story that will continue to unfold, but as a guide to understand the slow-burning crisis in East Asian seas so far, China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations is highly recommended.”

—Chris Rahman, Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources & Security, Marine Policy 110 (December 2019).

“During this same period of an economically rising China, the Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute became a leading center for analyzing China’s naval power. Two of the Institute’s mainstays, Andrew Erickson and Ryan Martinson, again have contributed to our understanding by assembling and editing twenty papers prepared for a 2017 conference on what could turn out to be the most significant component of China’s modus operandi at sea: exploitation of the so-called gray zone. … The papers collected in this new work…can help us better understand this maneuvering and meet the challenges the West already faces—challenges that only will grow as China’s naval strength and presence grow.”

—Charles Horner, Naval War College Review 72.4 (2019): 176-77.

“Erickson and Martinson have further etched themselves into the community of heavy-weight strategists, working with an assortment of outstanding authors and building on their reputation as staunch intellectuals who keenly grasp the nuances of Chinese maritime strategy, particularly gray zone operations. …Erickson and Martinson have brought together a significant publication that illuminates a critically dim section in an area broadly considered as over-done. …provides the reader with a comprehensive exploration of the evolving nature of Chinese behaviour in the South China Sea and notably, the chance to do so from 22 different perspectives. …charts a fluid, logical advance from conceptualization to components, to scenarios and finishing with policy considerations. …The reviewer was left with an enduring impression of: the clarity with which the foundation of the topic is described in Part 1; the conciseness and transparency of the often misunderstood aspects of the China Coast Guard (CCG) in Part 2; the accurate identification and description of the ‘gray area’ of China’s Maritime Militia in Part 3; the specificity and application of poignant events in Part 4; and, well-considered, robust policy considerations in Part 5. …offers the reader a brilliant opportunity to traverse contemporary considerations of the South China Sea’s gray zone mechanism. … Highly recommended reading.”

—Lt. Mitchell Vines, RAN,The Australian Naval Institute, 14 July 2019.

“An essential read for those seeking to understand and achieve the sort of asymmetric offshore counter balancing that regional powers [together] with the U.S. are likely to require if they are [to] live long and prosper alongside the Dragon’s den.”

Navy Magazine, Navy League of Australia 81.3 (2019): 31.

“the book provides a cornerstone of what is happening now in addition to where things are likely headed. …certain to enlighten you.”

Virtual Mirage, 6 April 2019.

“… a first rate piece of work. …the discussions of the book could be seen as a historic look at a phase of Chinese maritime power and the evolving approach to strategic engagement in the region and beyond. … I would highly recommend reading this important book and thinking through what it teaches us, or challenges us to think about in terms of the much broader spectrum of crisis management we are facing.”

—Robbin Laird, Defense Info, 26 March 2019.


Andrew S. Erickson is professor of strategy in the Naval War College (NWC)’s China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) and an associate in research at Harvard’s Fairbank Center. The recipient of NWC’s inaugural Research Excellence Award, he runs the China studies website www.andrewerickson.com.

Ryan D. Martinson is an assistant professor at CMSI. He holds a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a bachelor’s of science from Union College. Martinson has also studied at Fudan University, the Beijing Language and Culture University, and the Hopkins-Nanjing Center.


Morgan Clemens is a Research Analyst at SOS International LLC.

Peter A. Dutton, a retired U.S. Navy Commander and judge advocate, is Professor and Director at CMSI.

Matthew Funaiole is a fellow with the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Bonnie S. Glaser is senior adviser for Asia and director of CSIS’s China Power Project.

Joshua Hickey is a senior analyst for the Department of the Navy with over fifteen years’ subject matter experience.

Henry Holst is a junior analyst for the Department of the Navy.

Conor M. Kennedy is a research associate at CMSI.

Adam P. Liff is an assistant professor at Indiana University’s School of Global and International Studies and an associate in research at Harvard’s Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies.

Michael Mazarr is a senior political scientist and associate director of the strategy and doctrine program at the RAND Corporation’s Arroyo Center.

Barney Moreland, a retired Captain who served as the first U.S. Coast Guard Liaison Officer in Beijing, is the Senior Intelligence Analyst at U.S. Pacific Fleet Headquarters.

Lyle J. Morris is a senior policy analyst at RAND.

Cdr. Jonathan G. Odom, USN, is a judge advocate and military professor at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies.

Michael B. Petersen is the founding director Russia Maritime Studies Institute and an associate professor in the Center for Naval Warfare Studies at NWC.

Capt. Dale C. Rielage, USN, is Director for Intelligence and Information Operations, U.S. Pacific Fleet.

Mark A. Stokes, a retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, is Executive Director of the Project 2049 Institute.

Austin M. Strange is a Ph.D. candidate in Harvard University’s Government Department.

Admiral Tomohisa Takei, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) (Ret.) concluded his thirty-seven-year naval career as the JMSDF’s 32nd Chief of Staff, and is now a professor and distinguished international fellow at NWC.

Michael Weber a foreign affairs analyst and Presidential Management Fellow at the Congressional Research Service.

Capt. Katsuya Yamamoto, JMSDF, who served as a Defense/Naval Attaché in Beijing, is a liaison officer and international military professor at NWC.

Previous Titles in the Series

China’s Future Nuclear Submarine Force

China’s Energy Strategy: The Impact on Beijing’s Maritime Policies

China Goes to Sea: Maritime Transformation in Comparative Historical Perspective

China, the United States and 21st-Century Sea Power: Defining a Maritime Security Partnership

Chinese Aerospace Power: Evolving Maritime Roles

Chinese Naval Shipbuilding: An Ambitious and Uncertain Course

Japanese Translation of “China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations”—中国の海洋強国戦略:グレーゾーン作戦と展開 (日本語)

アンドリュー・S・エリクソン (編集), ライアン・D・マーティンソン (編集), 五味 睦佳 (翻訳), 大野 慶二 (翻訳), 木村 初夫 (翻訳), 五島 浩司 (翻訳), 杉本 正彦 (翻訳), 武居 智久 (翻訳), 山本 勝也 (翻訳[Andrew S. Erickson (Editor), Ryan D. Martinson (Editor), Gumi Mutsuka (Translator), Ohno Keiji (Translator), Kimura Hatsuo (Translator), Goto Koji (Translator), Sugimoto Masahiko (Translator), Tomohisa Takei (translator), and Katsuya Yamamoto (translator)]; 中国の海洋強国戦略:グレーゾーン作戦と展開 (日本語) [China’s Maritime Power Strategy: Strategy and Deployment in Gray Zone (Japanese translation of China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations)] (Tokyo: 原書房 [Hara Shobo Press], 2020).

中国の海洋強国戦略:グレーゾーン作戦と展開 (日本語) 単行本 – 2020/3/19

アンドリュー・S・エリクソン (編集), ライアン・D・マーティンソン (編集), 五味 睦佳 (翻訳), 大野 慶二 (翻訳), 木村 初夫 (翻訳), 五島 浩司 (翻訳), 杉本 正彦 (翻訳), 武居 智久 (翻訳), 山本 勝也 (翻訳)









モーガン・クレメンス (Morgan Clemens)
SOS International LLCの研究アナリスト。
ピーター・A・ダットン(Peter A.Dutton)
マシュー・P・フネオーレ(Matthew P.Funaiole)
ボニー・S・グレイサー(Bonnie S.Glaser)
ジョシュア・ヒッキー(Joshua Hickey)
ヘンリー・ホルスト(Henry Holst)
コナー・M・ケネディ(Conor M.Kennedy)
アダム・P・リフ(Adam P.Liff)
マイケル・マザール(Michael Mazarr)
バーナード・モアランド(Bernard Moreland)
ライル・J・モリス(Lyle J.Morris)
ジョナサン・G・オドム(Jonathan G.Odom)
マイケル・B・ピーターセン(Michael B.Petersen)
デール・C・リエーレ(Dale C.Rielage)
マーク・A・ストークス(Mark A.Stokes)
退役米国空軍中佐。Project 2049 Institute事務局長。
オースティン・M・ストランジ(Austin M.Strange)
スコット・H・スウィフト(Scott H.Swift)
マイケル・ウェーバー(Michael Weber)

アンドリュー・S・エリクソン(Andrew S.Erickson)
ライアン・D・マーティンソン(Ryan D.Martinson)



序論 「砲煙なき戦争」

第I部 グレーゾーンの概念化
第1章 中国の海上グレーゾーン
第2章 中国の海上グレーゾーン作戦の概念化
第3章 海上民兵は海上における人民戦争(海上人民戦争)を実行しているのか
第4章 グレーゾーンが国際法の基本原則に抵触するとき

第II部 中国海警局とグレーゾーン
第5章 グレーゾーンのための組織改編
第6章 海上グレーゾーンにおける海警局作戦の軍事化
第7章 中国の海上法執行海上プラットフォーム

第III部 中国の海上民兵とグレーゾーン
第8章 権益擁護対戦闘
第9章 中国の海上民兵と偵察・攻撃作戦
第10章 ブルーテリトリー(外洋領域)におけるグレー軍

第IV部 近海グレーゾーンのシナリオ
第11章 南シナ海
第12章 東シナ海における中国の海上グレーゾーン作戦と日本の対応
第13章 東シナ海

第V部 グレーゾーン政策の課題と提言事項
第14章 グレーゾーンの作戦における時間的要素
第15章 中国のグレーゾーン作戦行動への対応における抑止の役割
第16章 中国との紛争管理における事例研究としてのベトナムおよびフィリピン
結論 グレーゾーンにおける米国のシーパワーの決定的使用のための選択肢





5つ星のうち5.0 日本ではほとんど知られていない中国海上民兵の実態を明らかにしている貴重な本。







Prashanth Parameswaran, “Andrew Erickson and Ryan Martinson on China and the Maritime Gray Zone,” The Diplomat, 14 May 2019.

How China thinks about and acts in the maritime gray zone, and what that means for the region’s future.

Over the past few years, as China has continued its expansion in the maritime domain, scholars and practitioners alike have honed in on the subject of how Beijing operates in the so-called “gray zone” between war and peace, staying below the threshold of armed conflict to secure gains while not provoking military responses by others, including the United States. Understanding the dynamics of this has important implications not only for particular maritime spaces, such as the East China Sea and the South China Sea, but also for broader issues such as the management of U.S.-China competition and wider regional peace and stability.

The Diplomat’s senior editor, Prashanth Parameswaran, recently spoke to Andrew Erickson and Ryan Martinson, both affiliated with the U.S. Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute, about how China thinks about and acts in the maritime gray zone and what that might mean for the region’s future. The discussion was framed around the release of a new edited volume by the authors in March entitled China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations.

One of the core contributions of the book is providing a detailed and systematic understanding of how China itself thinks about the maritime gray zone – both on its own terms as well as how it related to broader Chinese foreign and defense policy – with a detailed use of Chinese sources. What are some of the key takeaways about how China thinks about the maritime gray zone in particular, in terms of how it is defined as well as the objectives and key components of China’s approach? And what would you flag as some of the areas of similarity and difference with respect to how others may think of these challenges and talk about them?

China is much more transparent in Chinese. And, particularly in native-language sources, Chinese policymakers are very clear about the fact that their long-term goal is to exercise “administrative control” over all of the 3 million square kilometers of Chinese-claimed maritime space. This includes all of the Bohai Gulf, large sections of the Yellow Sea and East China Sea, and all of the area within the nine-dash line in the South China Sea. Many Western analysts assume that China has more abstract aims, like discrediting the international legal order. This may happen anyway, as a byproduct of their actions, but the most compelling evidence suggests that Beijing sees strategic, economic, and symbolic value in controlling as much space as possible within the First Island Chain.

Chinese leaders don’t use the term “gray zone” to describe their approach to asserting control over this space. For at least a decade, they have conceived of their policy as a balancing act. On the one hand, they feel the need to defend and advance China’s claims. They call these actions “maritime rights protection.” On the other hand, they want to avoid severely harming their relations with other states. Regional stability, after all, is vital for sustaining China’s economic development — which remains the core of China’s grand strategy. Using paranaval forces like the coast guard and the militia allows them to find an optimal balance between “rights protection” and “stability maintenance.” Paranaval forces are much less provocative than gray-hulled warships. The Chinese coast guard operates on the pretext of routine law enforcement, and militia often pretend to be fishermen. Yet both forces can be used to pursue traditional military objectives of controlling space. … … …


Dmitry Filipoff, “Andrew S. Erickson and Ryan D. Martinson Discuss China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations,” Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), 11 March 2019.

On March 15th, the Naval Institute Press will publish China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations, a volume edited by professors Andrew S. Erickson and Ryan D. Martinson from the Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute. CIMSEC recently reached out to Erickson and Martinson about their latest work.

Q: What was the genesis of your book?

Erickson: In the last decade or so, China has dramatically expanded its control and influence over strategically important parts of maritime East Asia. It has done so despite opposition from regional states, including the United States, and without firing a shot. Others have examined this topic, but we found that much of the public analysis and discussion was not grounded in solid mastery of the available Chinese sources—even though China tends to be much more transparent in Chinese. We also recognized a general lack of understanding about the two organizations on the front lines of Beijing’s seaward expansion: the China Coast Guard (CCG) and the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM). This volume grew out of a conference we held in Newport in May 2017 to address some of these issues. It contains contributions from world-leading subject matter experts, with a wide range of commercial, technical, government, and scholarly experience and expertise. We’re honored to receive endorsements from top leaders in sea power, strategy, and policy: former Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead, former Secretary of the Navy J. William Middendorf, Harvard Professor Stephen Rosen, former Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Fleet Commander-in-Chief Vice Admiral Yoji Koda, Dr. James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation, and former Pentagon Director of Net Assessment Andrew Marshall.

Q: The title of your book is China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations. How does the term “gray zone” apply here?

Martinson: We usually prefer to use Chinese concepts when talking about Chinese behavior, and Chinese strategist do not generally use the term “gray zone.” But we think that the concept nicely captures the essence of the Chinese approach. We were inspired by the important work done by RAND analyst Michael Mazarr, who contributed a chapter to the volume. In his view, gray zone strategies have three primary characteristics. They seek to alter the status quo. They do so gradually. And they employ “unconventional” elements of state power. Today, a large proportion of Chinese-claimed maritime space is controlled or contested by other countries. This is the status quo that Beijing seeks to alter. Its campaign to assert control over these areas has progressed over a number of years. Clearly, then, Chinese leaders are in no rush to achieve their objectives. And while China’s Navy plays a very important role in this strategy, it is not the chief protagonist.

Q: Who, then, are the chief actors?

Martinson: The CCG and the PAFMM perform the vast majority of Chinese maritime gray zone operations. Chinese strategists and spokespeople frame their actions as righteous efforts to protect China’s “maritime rights and interests.” The CCG uses law enforcement as a pretext for activities to assert Beijing’s prerogatives in disputed maritime space. PAFMM personnel are often disguised as civilian mariners, especially fishermen. Most do fish, at least some of the time. But they can be activated to conduct rights protection operations. And a new elite subcomponent is paid handsomely to engage in sovereignty promotion missions fulltime without fishing at all. Meanwhile, the PLA Navy also plays a role in disputed waters, serving what Chinese strategists call a “backstop” function. It discourages foreign countries from pushing back too forcefully and stands ready over the horizon to come to the aid of China’s gray zone forces should the situation escalate.

Q: Most readers will have heard about the China Coast Guard, but fewer may be familiar with the PAFMM. How is the PAFMM organized?

Erickson: The PAFMM is a state-organized, developed, and controlled force operating under a direct military chain of command.This component of China’s armed forces is locally supported, but answers to China’s centralized military bureaucracy, headed by Commander-in-Chief Xi Jinping himself. While most retain day jobs, militiamen are organized into military units and receive military training, sometimes from China’s Navy. In recent years, there has been a push to professionalize the PAFMM. The Sansha City Maritime Militia, headquartered on Woody Island in the Paracels, is the model for a professional militia force. It is outfitted with seven dozen large new ships that resemble fishing trawlers but are actually purpose-built for gray zone operations. Lacking fishing responsibilities, personnel train for manifold peacetime and wartime contingencies, including with light arms, and deploy regularly to disputed South China Sea areas, even during fishing moratoriums.

Three types of maritime militia vessels depicted in the Office of Naval Intelligence’s China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), Coast Guard, and Government Maritime Forces 2018 Recognition and Identification Guide. (Office of Naval Intelligence)

There are no solid numbers publicly available on the size of China’s maritime militia, but it is clearly the world’s largest. In fact, it is virtually the only one charged with involvement in sovereignty disputes: only Vietnam, one of the very last countries politically and bureaucratically similar to China, is known to have a similar force with a similar mission. China’s maritime militia draws on the world’s largest fishing fleet, incorporating through formal registration a portion of its thousands of fishing vessels, and the thousands of people who work aboard them as well as in other marine industries. The PAFMM thus recruits from the world’s largest fishing industry. According to China’s 2016 Fisheries Yearbook, China’s fishing industry employs 20,169,600 workers, mostly in traditional fishing practices, industry processing, and coastal aquaculture. Those who actually fish “on the water” number 1,753,618. They operate 187,200 “marine fishing vessels.” An unknown portion of these are militia boats. To give a sense of the size and distribution of PAFMM forces, our volume includes figures showing the location of leading militia units in two major maritime provinces: Hainan and Zhejiang.

Q: How is the CCG organized for gray zone operations?

Martinson: When we held the conference in 2017, the CCG was in the midst of a major organizational reform. It was only set up in 2013, the result of a decision to combine four different maritime law enforcement agencies. Before 2013, most rights protection operations were conducted by two civilian agencies: China Marine Surveillance and Fisheries Law Enforcement. They did not cooperate well with each other. Moreover, neither had any real policing powers. After the CCG was created, it became clear that Beijing intended to transform it into a military organization. In early 2018, Beijing announced a decision to transfer the CCG from the State Oceanic Administration to the People’s Armed Police. At about the same time, the People’s Armed Police was placed under the control of the Central Military Commission. So, like the PAFMM, it is now a component of China’s armed forces. Moreover, CCG officers now have the authority to detain and charge foreign mariners for criminal offenses simply for being present in disputed areas of the East China Sea and South China Sea (although they have yet to use this authority in practice).

Q: How is the CCG equipped to assert China’s maritime claims?

Martinson: When Beijing’s gray zone campaign began in earnest in 2006, China’s maritime law enforcement forces were fairly weak. They owned few oceangoing cutters, and many of those that they did own were elderly vessels handed down from the PLA Navy or the country’s oceanographic research fleet. They were not purpose-built for “rights protection” missions. In recent years, however, Beijing has invested heavily in new platforms for the CCG. Today, China has by far the world’s largest coast guard, operating more maritime law enforcement vessels than the coast guards of all its regional neighbors combined. As the chapter by Joshua Hickey, Andrew Erickson, and Henry Holst points out, the CCG owns more than 220 ships over 500 tons, far surpassing Japan (with around 80 coast guard hulls over 500 tons), the United States (with around 50), and South Korea (with around 45). At over 10,000 tons full load, the CCG’s two Zhaotou-class patrol ships are the world’s largest coast guard vessels. The authors project that in 2020 China’s coast guard could have 260 ships capable of operating offshore (i.e., larger than 500 tons). Drawing from lessons learned while operating in disputed areas in the East and South China Seas, recent classes of Chinese coast guard vessels have seen major qualitative improvements. They are larger, faster, more maneuverable, and have enhanced firepower. Many CCG vessels are now armed with 30 mm and 76 mm cannons.

Q: It appears that these gray zone forces and operations are heavily focused on sovereignty disputes such as in the East and South China Seas. Are they also pursuing other goals and lines of effort?

Erickson: That is correct. The vast majority of maritime gray zone activities involve efforts to assert Chinese control and influence over disputed maritime space in what Chinese strategists term the “Near Seas.” When conducting rights protection operations, these forces help Beijing enforce its policies regarding which kinds of activities can and cannot take place in Chinese-claimed areas. The CCG and PAFMM intimidate and harass foreign civilians attempting to use the ocean for economic purposes, such as fishing and oil/gas development. Since at least 2011, for instance, China’s coast guard and militia forces have been charged with preventing Vietnam from developing offshore hydrocarbon reserves in its own Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), part of which overlaps with China’s sweeping nine-dash line claim. China’s gray zone forces also protect Chinese civilians operating “legally” in Chinese-claimed maritime space. The 2014 defense of Chinese drilling rig HYSY-981, discussed in detail in our volume, is a classic case of this type of gray zone operation. By controlling maritime space, China’s gray zone forces can also determine who can and cannot access disputed features. Since 2012, for instance, Chinese coast guard and militia forces have upheld Chinese control over Scarborough Reef. Today, Filipino fishermen can only operate there with China’s permission.

Q: What are some of the tactics employed by China’s gray zone forces?

Erickson: Most CCG cutters are unarmed, and PAFMM vessels are minimally armed at most. They assert Chinese prerogatives through employment of a range of nonlethal tactics. In many cases, Chinese gray zone ships are themselves the weapon: they bump, ram, and physically obstruct the moments of other vessels. They also employ powerful water cannons to damage sensitive equipment aboard foreign ships and flood their power plants. Foreign states are often helpless to respond because China has the region’s most powerful navy, which gives it escalation dominance.

Q: How have regional states reacted to Chinese maritime gray zone operations? Have some had more effective responses than others?

Martinson: Regional states have not presented China with a united front. They have each handled Chinese encroachments differently. China’s strongest neighboring sea power, Japan has taken the most vigorous actions. As Adam Liff outlines in his chapter, it has bolstered its naval and coast guard forces along its southern islands. It has also taken bold steps to publicize China’s gray zone actions. Vietnam has been a model of pushback against Beijing’s maritime expansion, as Bernard Moreland recounts in his chapter. But even its resistance has limits. In July 2017, Beijing likely used gray zone forces to compel Hanoi to cancel plans to develop oil and gas in its own EEZ, in cooperation with a Spanish company. Other states have taken a much more conciliatory approach to China’s incursions in the South China Sea. The Philippines, for example, is apparently acquiescing to Beijing’s desire to jointly develop disputed parts of the South China Sea—areas that a 2016 arbitration ruling clearly place under Philippine jurisdiction. Meanwhile, China continues to push Manila in other ways. Philippine supply shipments to Second Thomas Shoal are still subject to harassment. China has recently concentrated a fleet of gray zone forces just off the coast of Philippine-occupied Thitu Island, in an apparent effort to pressure Manila to discontinue long-planned repairs and updates to its facilities there.

Chinese fishing vessels massed off Philippine-occupied Thitu Island in January 2019. (CSIS/AMTIDigitalGlobe)

At the same time, China itself continues to develop reclaimed land at Mischief Reef, a mostly submerged feature which because of its location clearly belongs to the Philippines. For its part, Malaysia has not publicly opposed Chinese incursions in its jurisdictional waters. But it is apparently proceeding with plans to develop seabed resources near the Chinese-claimed Luconia Shoals. Chinese coast guard vessels patrol the area, but have not forced a cessation of exploratory drilling operations—including those conducted by the Japanese-owned drilling rig Hakuryu 5 in February 2018. This story will be worth following, as Malaysia makes decisions about next steps. In 2016, Indonesia took robust actions to crack down on Chinese fishing activities near the southern part of the nine-dash line, northeast of its Natuna Islands. Things have been fairly quiet in the years since, perhaps because CCG vessels are escorting the fishing fleet to the area.

Q: It seems like China’s gray zone strategy is more often directed at other countries. Why is this topic important for U.S. national security?

Erickson: The U.S. Navy has also been targeted by China’s gray zone forces. U.S. Navy special mission ships such as the USNSBowditchUSNS Impeccable, USNS Effective, USNS Victorious, and USNS Howard O. Lorenzen have been shadowed and harassed, victims of China’s erratically-enforced opposition to foreign naval activities within its claimed EEZ. To be sure, China’s gray zone campaign is largely targeted at other territorial claimants, but two of these countries—Japan and the Philippines—are U.S. allies. Washington’s robust alliance with Tokyo, in particular, is critical to American presence and peace preservation in a vital but vulnerable region. Chinese bullying behavior threatens to undermine these alliances and could trigger direct American military intervention if China’s gray zone operations were to escalate into armed attack. Moreover, as Jonathan Odom points out in his chapter, China’s activities violate important international conventions and norms. This means they are weakening key pillars of the international maritime order, and with it the global system on which peace and prosperity depend. In many cases China’s gray zone forces are used to assert maritime claims that have no basis in international law.

Q: And how can the U.S. Navy, as a more high-end force, better handle these sorts of Chinese paramilitary forces without risking escalation?

Martinson: If the United States wants to be effectual, it must do more to expose China’s gray zone activities, and it must accept a degree of risk in opposing them more strongly. China’s gray zone activities cannot be easily deterred, because each individual act is calculated to fall below American red lines. If Washington wants to get serious about countering China’s gray zone expansion, it must do more than conduct “presence” and “freedom of navigation” operations—which appear to sit at the heart of the current approach. The former cannot deter Beijing from taking tactical actions in the gray zone. The latter does little to defend the interests of allies and partners. In our concluding chapter, we suggest ways that the U.S. Navy can do more to help them protect their legitimate interests and defend the legal norms and conventions that China’s behavior threatens to erode. In short, the United States should be out there with them, operating on the front lines of China’s seaward expansion. To that end, it must develop a range of nonlethal tactics that it can use to achieve local effects without resorting to use of force.

Dr. Andrew S. Erickson is a Professor of Strategy in the China Maritime Studies Institute and the recipient of the inauguralCivilian Faculty Research Excellence Award at the Naval War College. He is an Associate in Research at Harvard University’s John King Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. In 2013, while deployed in the Pacific as a Regional Security Education Program scholar aboard USS Nimitz, he delivered twenty-five hours of presentations. Erickson is the author of Chinese Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Development (Jamestown Foundation/Brookings Institution Press, 2013). He received his Ph.D. from Princeton University. Erickson blogs at www.andrewerickson.com.

Ryan D. Martinson is a researcher in the China Maritime Studies Institute at the U.S. Naval War College. He holds a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a bachelor’s of science from Union College. Martinson has also studied at Fudan University, the Beijing Language and Culture University, and the Hopkins-Nanjing Center. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Navy, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

Featured Image: A China Coast Guard ship uses a water cannon to harass a Vietnamese law enforcement vessel near the disputed Paracel Islands on May 27, 2014. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun)



Ryan D. Martinson and Andrew S. Erickson, “Re-Orienting American Sea Power for the China Challenge,” War on the Rocks, 10 May 2018.

Summary: this article proposes a new set of tools for countering China’s maritime gray zone expansion.

As a seafaring state, America demands maximal access to the world’s oceans within the constraints of international law. Though seldom recognized, U.S. efforts to defend its interest in maritime freedom in the Western Pacific have been fairly successful. When the People’s Republic of China unlawfully draws “fences” around the sea, U.S. warships steam through the fences. Beijing recognizes the seriousness of America’s position, and thus far has generally yielded.

However, when it comes to helping its allies and partners protect themselves against Chinese encroachment, the United States has a mixed record. Since 2006, Beijing has dramatically expanded the frontiers of its control in the East and South China Seas. To pursue its irredentist agenda, Beijing has largely relied on unarmed or lightly armed paranaval forces — coast guard and militia — conducting operations in what has been described as the “gray zone” between war and peace. Despite the robust presence of American sea power in contested areas of maritime East Asia, the United States has largely failed to halt China’s bullying behavior. This failure devalues Washington’s commitments to its friends and shakes the foundations of the U.S. alliance system — the true source of American global influence.

To better aid its allies and partners, Washington should consider expanding its catalogue of peacetime maritime operations. Passive presence has proved inadequate. In some cases, American policymakers may need to place U.S. forces on the front lines, where they can play a more direct role helping other states counter China’s seaward expansion. … …


Conor M. Kennedy, “The Struggle for Blue Territory: Chinese Maritime Militia Grey-Zone Operations,” The RUSI Journal 163.5 (October/November 2018): 8–19.

China employs three sea forces to defend and advance its maritime claims – the People’s Liberation Army Navy, the China Coast Guard and the maritime militia. This third force plays a vital role in protecting China’s maritime rights and interests, performing tasks that fit what observers are increasingly referring to as the ‘grey zone’ between war and peace. In this article, Conor Kennedy addresses Chinese considerations that guide the use of maritime militia and defines a range of operations by reviewing publicly known cases.

China employs three sea forces to defend and advance its maritime claims: the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN); the China Coast Guard (CCG); and the maritime militia. China’s militia was originally a force of armed peasants called up to defend Chinese territory from foreign invaders. Today, China still implements a nationwide militia- building system and preserves the militia’s status as an official component of its armed forces. The maritime militia is a subcomponent of militia which comprises commercial mariners, often fishermen, who can be mobilised as paramilitary personnel to fulfil state functions.1 China’s maritime militia began as an early tool of necessity for warfighting when the PLAN was weak. Today it is a tool of choice for China’s more recent assertive posture and continues to be involved in incidents at sea.

While much is written on the maritime militia’s past and potentially future roles in supporting PLAN warfighting, to date there has been little systematic effort to define the range of operations it performs in the service of China’s maritime disputes. This article fills this gap in two parts. First, it discusses the strategic considerations guiding Beijing’s use of militia in its maritime disputes. Why fund a militia when China could simply rely on its powerful navy and coast guard to pursue its claims? Second, the article examines specific types of militia operations, its functions and tactics, and known cases in which these operations have been performed.

Grey-Zone Advantages for Maritime Militia

In peacetime, the maritime militia serves China’s dispute strategy, which can be divided into three broad categories as described in the Naval War College Review by Peter Dutton: disputes over territorial features; disputes over the shape and extent of zones of jurisdiction; and disputes over coastal state authorities to regulate foreign activities – above all, military activities – in Chinese-claimed jurisdictional waters.

The first two involve China’s neighbours: Japan and Taiwan in the East China Sea; and the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan, Vietnam and Indonesia in the South China Sea. The third primarily involves the US, regarding US freedom of navigation operations meant to challenge excessive Chinese claims in the South China Sea or Chinese attempts to restrict the rights of US Navy Special Mission Ships to conduct operations within its exclusive economic zone.2 The maritime militia plays an important role in defending and advancing China’s position in all three types of dispute. Its actions are often framed as efforts to safeguard China’s maritime rights and interests.3

Despite being a component of China’s armed forces, when conducting rights protection operations the maritime militia is generally unarmed, and its members frequently operate in civilian guise. However, they serve under the command authority of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and sometimes the CCG. This dual identity makes them uniquely suited to serve key functions in China’s dispute strategy. To foreign ships transiting disputed areas, the maritime militia would likely appear simply as civilian fishermen, masking a potentially state-sponsored operation.

Use of militia forces is guided both by political and operational considerations. Politically, militia forces can vigorously pursue China’s claims without opening the country to criticism for ‘gunboat diplomacy’ or justifying foreign escalation (or intervention). When not in uniform, their activities can be framed as private actions. This plausible deniability makes them ideal instruments for pursuing national aims in the ‘grey zone’ between war and peace.4

Indeed, the head of the Zhanjiang City Xiashan District’s People’s Armed Forces Department (PAFD), Chen Qingsong, describes the role of the maritime militia as a means of preventing war: ‘In peace [the maritime militia] not only play a role in declaring sovereignty, fighting harassment by foreign enemies and rights protection security, they also serve as a buffer for war [Zhanzheng Huanchongqi] to create a peaceful, ordered and stable maritime security environment’.5

While in many ways inferior to China’s other two sea forces, the navy and coast guard, the maritime militia also offers unique operational capabilities. Militia forces tend to operate smaller and more manoeuvrable vessels, which are better equipped for plying shallow waters and engaging small foreign vessels. Moreover, because they are far more numerous than China’s naval and coast guard assets, militia forces can cover much broader swathes of ocean, enhancing presence and bolstering maritime- domain awareness. … …


The maritime militia allows China to energetically pursue its maritime claims while avoiding many of the escalation, reputational and other risks that would accompany use of traditional instruments of national power, such as the PLAN.

This article has classified four types of operations – presence, harassment and sabotage, escort, and ISR – that the maritime militia conducts to support China’s position in its maritime disputes. In exploring each type of operation, specific examples of events at sea are identified.

One key conclusion is that all these maritime militia ‘grey-zone’ operations have roots in earlier eras. While the disputes have intensified in recent years and material and organisational improvements in the maritime militia continue in step with China’s other maritime services, the basic operations themselves are not new. Increasing operational frequency and capabilities of the maritime militia, and greater coordination with the PLAN and the CCG, appear to be a recent innovation made over the past couple of decades to better serve China’s more assertive behaviour in its maritime disputes. The geographic scope of its operations is also greatly expanding.

In the past, the maritime militia was a tool used out of necessity to support the previously weaker PLAN. Beijing’s contemporary objective to assert control over disputed maritime areas has placed greater emphasis on maritime rights protection missions which in turn have raised the profile and capabilities of the maritime militia. Chosen for its unique role as a buffer for war, the maritime militia is now standing on the front line of disputes, as during the 2009 USNS Impeccable incident, the 2014 Hai Yang Shi You 981 confrontation, or the 2017 attempt to intimidate the Philippines near Thitu Island.

By examining most of the recent publicly known incidents involving China’s maritime militia, this article has sought to define patterns of particular Chinese state behaviour that has played a direct role in incidents at sea. Identifying these activities will prove fundamental to future analyses of China’s maritime militia. Whether these forces are employed against Japan in the Senkaku Diaoyu Islands or to disrupt foreign military operations in waters China claims, the maritime militia will impact each of the disputes that China is party to in the East and South China Seas.


Conor M. Kennedy and Andrew S. Erickson, China’s Third Sea Force, The People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia: Tethered to the PLA, China Maritime Report 1 (Newport, RI: Naval War College China Maritime Studies Institute, March 2017).

Amid growing awareness that China’s Maritime Militia acts as a Third Sea Force which has been involved in international sea incidents, it is necessary for decision-makers who may face such contingencies to understand the Maritime Militia’s role in China’s armed forces. Chinese-language open sources reveal a tremendous amount about Maritime Militia activities, both in coordination with and independent of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Using well-documented evidence from the authors’ extensive open source research, this report seeks to clarify the Maritime Militia’s exact identity, organization, and connection to the PLA as a reserve force that plays a parallel and supporting role to the PLA. Despite being a separate component of China’s People’s Armed Forces (PAF), the militia are organized and commanded directly by the PLA’s local military commands. The militia’s status as a separate non-PLA force whose units act as “helpers of the PLA” (解放军的 助手) is further reflected in China’s practice of carrying out “joint military, law enforcement, and civilian [Navy-Maritime Law Enforcement-Maritime Militia] defense” (军警民联防). To more accurately capture the identity of the Maritime Militia, the authors propose referring to these irregular forces as the “People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia” (PAFMM).

Conor M. Kennedy and Andrew S. Erickson, China’s Third Sea Force, The People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia: Tethered to the PLA, China Maritime Report 1 (Newport, RI: Naval War College China Maritime Studies Institute, March 2017).

China, China Maritime Studies Institute, CMSI, People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia, China Maritime Militia, PLA

  NWC LogoCMSI Logo

China’s Third Sea Force,

The People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia:

Tethered to the PLA


Conor M. Kennedy and Andrew S. Erickson[1]


China Maritime Report No. 1

March 2017

China Maritime Studies Institute

U.S. Naval War College

Newport, Rhode Island



Amid growing awareness that China’s Maritime Militia acts as a Third Sea Force which has been involved in international sea incidents, it is necessary for decision-makers who may face such contingencies to understand the Maritime Militia’s role in China’s armed forces. Chinese-language open sources reveal a tremendous amount about Maritime Militia activities, both in coordination with and independent of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Using well-documented evidence from the authors’ extensive open source research, this report seeks to clarify the Maritime Militia’s exact identity, organization, and connection to the PLA as a reserve force that plays a parallel and supporting role to the PLA. Despite being a separate component of China’s People’s Armed Forces (PAF), the militia are organized and commanded directly by the PLA’s local military commands. The militia’s status as a separate non-PLA force whose units act as “helpers of the PLA” (解放军的助手)[2] is further reflected in China’s practice of carrying out “joint military, law enforcement, and civilian [Navy-Maritime Law Enforcement-Maritime Militia] defense” (军警民联防). To more accurately capture the identity of the Maritime Militia, the authors propose referring to these irregular forces as the “People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia” (PAFMM).

Like a tetherball, the PAFMM may be sent in many different directions when contacted by different players in the Chinese security space, but is often directed by the PLA and always remains tied to the PLA.

Key points:

  1. Leading elements of China’s Maritime Militia have already played frontline roles in manifold Chinese incidents and skirmishes with foreign mariners throughout the South China Sea.
  2. The Militia is a key component of China’s Armed Forces and a part of what it calls the “People’s Armed Forces System” (人武系统).[3]
  3. China’s People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM) is therefore the most accurate name for this Third Sea Force of China.
  4. Directed participation by PAFMM forces in international sea incidents or provocations occurs under the PLA chain of command, and sometimes also under the temporary command of the Chinese Maritime Law Enforcement (MLE).
  5. The PAFMM is thus a state-organized, -developed, and -controlled force operating under a direct military chain of command to conduct Chinese state-sponsored activities.


Command and Control

China boasts the world’s largest fishing fleet. A portion of its thousands of fishing vessels, and the thousands of people who work on them and in related industries, are registered in the Maritime Militia.[4] China’s PAFMM is an armed mass organization primarily comprising mariners working in the civilian economy who are trained and can be mobilized to defend and advance China’s maritime territorial claims, protect “maritime rights and interests,” and support the PLA Navy (PLAN) in wartime.

China’s People’s Armed Forces include the PLA, People’s Armed Police (PAP), and the militia, of which the PAF Maritime Militia (PAFMM) is a subset. As militia, members of the PAFMM typically retain their regular civilian employment while fulfilling their scheduled training and providing their service on demand for multifarious state-sponsored activities. To fully understand the PAFMM, it is critical to assess the institutional relationship between the PLA and the militia broadly.

Militia building typically involves a separate system in the armed forces, termed the “militia system” (民兵制度). The most recent official public description, in China’s 2013 Defense White Paper, states that they serve “as an assistant and backup force of the PLA.” While the militia is classified as a reserve force (后备力量), it should not be confused with the actual reserves of the PLA services (预备役部队). China builds the militia and the PLA reserves simultaneously as two separate components of its reserve force system.[5] Authoritative Chinese writings typically refer to the militia as “China militia” (中国民兵), essentially a reserve force that plays a parallel and supporting role to the PLA. This confers three responsibilities: first, to support the PLA in defending China from external threats, and second, to assist China’s domestic security forces to ensure social stability and to engage in disaster relief.

The militia has a military organizational structure and, despite being a separate component of China’s armed forces, is organized and commanded directly by the PLA’s local military commands.[6] Its forces are subject to the “dual-responsibility system” (双重领导) at the core of civil-military leadership over local forces. This system is implemented through multiple institutionalized mechanisms whereby local military and civilian leaders serve in posts on each other’s Party Committees that oversee militia work. Civilian leadership involvement in local military commands’ work helps ensure ‘Party control of the gun’ and creates useful synergies by leveraging local civilian resources.[7]

Fundamentally, militia units are local forces levied by provincial governments to support national defense efforts. This is reflected in the interactions between local civilian and military leaders. National militia work policies are prescribed for the provinces by the Central Military Commission’s National Defense Mobilization Department, currently headed by PLA Generals. The PLA Provincial Military Districts (MD) send their militia force requirements to the provincial government/Party apparatuses, which then plan and fund construction of the militia in their social and economic plans.[8] The local PLA commands (MDs, Military Subdistricts, and People’s Armed Forces Departments/PAFDs) then organize, train, and command the militia units. When required, other maritime-related government departments also help local military and government authorities to construct the PAFMM. For example, local branches of MLE agencies such as the Maritime Safety Administration and the China Coast Guard (CCG) provide safety or technical training pertinent to their departmental specialties.[9] Both central and provincial governments provide funding for the militia.[10] Local governments cover lost wages or damages incurred by militia personnel in training or missions. Since they help foot the bill for militia construction, local governments may call on the units if needed. The militia thus also provide a ready source of manpower for local governments in times of emergencies, such as natural disasters, law enforcement, and search and rescue efforts. This division of responsibilities requires civilian and military leaders to cooperate in militia building.

At the bottom tiers of the PLA local commands are the PAFDs, which link the PAFMM directly to the PLA chain of command. They are divided into county-level and grassroots-level PAFDs.[11] The county-level PAFDs, through which PAFMM communications and directives—such as mobilization and mission orders—must typically pass, are manned by active duty PLA personnel. Below them, the grassroots PAFDs are manned by civilian cadres whose salaries are paid by local governments and sometimes work on a part-time basis. These grassroots PAFDs are the closest interface through which militia interact with the PLA command on a regular basis, as their direct managers for recruitment, planning, organization, training, and policy execution.

The militia’s status as a separate non-PLA armed force is further reflected in China’s practice of conducting “joint military, law enforcement, and civilian defense” (军警民联防). At sea, this takes the form of “joint PLAN, MLE, and Maritime Militia [PAFMM] defense.”[12] Managing this joint defense system is a key responsibility of PLA commands located in border and coastal regions, such as the Sansha Garrison on Woody Island in the Paracels. These efforts are meant to integrate and coordinate local forces, such as the PAFMM and the PAP, vis-à-vis the PLA services’ joint warfighting operations. These dedicated efforts to incorporate local forces into broader joint operations seek to enable the PAFMM to operate effectively in such close coordination with the PLA services. Official Chinese sources indicate that leading PAFMM units are receiving military training directly from uniformed PLAN personnel while wearing their own militia uniforms.[13] Their vessels conduct exercises with PLAN and CCG vessels. To incentivize such risky state service, localities provide PAFMM personnel with a range of periodically-adjusted compensation and remuneration, including substantial pensions, social benefits, and subsidies.

Militia units established to specifically support PLA services, called “Service Support Detachments” (军兵种民兵分队), have also received greater emphasis over the past decade.[14] “Specialized Naval Militia Detachments” (海军民兵专业分队), created jointly by Military Subdistricts and the PLAN, train to provide specified support for naval combat operations. While the types of units vary significantly, the specialized naval militia detachments appear to draw upon technical professionals and former PLAN sailors for unit personnel, and to requisition fishing vessels for missions.[15] Unlike other PAFMM units that also carry out peacetime missions in support of China’s maritime claims, this subset of PAFMM enjoys a particularly close relationship with the PLAN and likely focuses heavily on combat scenarios.

Chinese leaders clearly see value in the PAFMM’s blurred status.[16] Among the chief motivations for building the militia is that it is not technically a direct subcomponent of the PLA. This rationale was also present during the establishment of the PAP in 1982 as an internal security force to relieve the PLA of the controversial task of suppressing domestic unrest. Such ambiguity affords the PAFMM great leeway in supporting China’s national interests and maritime claims.[17] It offers freedom to act in ways that would otherwise tarnish the PLA’s professional image and heighten escalation risks.[18] For example, an article run on the PLAN’s website described the advantages civilian identities afford PAFMM forces in terms of the “Three Warfares.” According to the author, PAFMM forces can “utilize their identities as civilians to create concern for maritime rights protection, spread maritime rights protection thought, display the determination and confidence of the nation’s people in protecting maritime rights and interests, makes gains in public opinion space, and occupy our rightful moral high ground.” The author also states that PAFMM personnel enjoy civilian liberties denied to active duty troops in the expression of policy, allowing them to guide public opinion in maritime affairs.[19] Having a third sea force that can keep a low profile and engage in deception while remaining subject to PLA command and control thus appears to be an essential motivation for China’s retention of a body that might appear crude and unprofessional in some respects.

The PAFMM contributes to China’s overall national defense mobilization work and is subject to the dual-leadership of local civilian and military organs. Thus, it is a unique component of China’s armed forces that is both separate from, and bound to, the PLA.

See Figure 1 (below) for a graphic depiction of PAFMM organization.

China's People's Armed Forces Maritime Militia Organization

Notes for Figure 1 (above):

1) Command of the PAFMM depends on the conditions prompting its mobilization in the first place, both in peace and in war. Generally, the MD chain of command exercises command over the PAFMM until operational command is delegated temporarily to the PLAN or CCG.[20]The PAFMM serves the Navy in both peacetime and wartime. MLE forces can also call on PAFMM forces for their own missions, but would likely have to provide compensation for the resources, i.e., fuel and labor, expended in such operations.[21] In their non-activated regular capacity as civilians conducting economic activities such as fishing, PAFMM members also maintain subordinate relationships with administrative entities such as the CCG and the PAP Border Defense Force. In all cases, the MD military and civilian leadership would be involved, either directly or at very least in a supervisory role.

2) National Defense Mobilization Committees (国防动员委员会) are consulting and coordinating bodies that assemble each level of civilian and military leadership under a single decision-making organ. Each level of NDMC works to ensure that national resources can be swiftly incorporated into national emergency or war efforts. Following recent PLA organizational reforms, it remains unclear whether there is still a NDMC-level entity between MDs and the State/CMC level, heretofore known as the “Military Region NDMC.” Transforming the former Military Regions into Theater Commands was meant to focus theater level commands’ efforts on joint warfighting rather than on the administrative functions of preparation for mobilization. The lack of Chinese reporting makes verification of this issue particularly difficult. Not reflected in the above organization chart, but also relevant to PAFMM building, are the Border and Coastal Defense Committees (边海防委员会) established in coastal provinces. As with the NDMCs, there is a State Border and Coastal Defense Committee under the unified leadership of the CMC and State Council, as well as Border and Coastal Defense Committees established at each corresponding level of governments and military commands in the provinces. These committees are also consulting and coordinating bodies for implementing defense of China’s land borders and claimed territorial waters, coordinating military and civilian forces under a single decision-making body. It also remains unknown if there will be a Border and Coastal Defense Committee at the former Military Region level, i.e., in the new Theater Commands.

3) Following the latest reforms, former Military Regions have been relieved of their responsibility for the construction of reserve forces in the provinces. MDs are now under the management of the CMC National Defense Mobilization Department. In times of emergency or war, Theater Commands would likely assume a commanding role for militia forces operating within their areas of geographic responsibility.

4) The depiction of three PAFMM units does not represent any specific order of battle or organizational structure, but rather illustrates that multiple Maritime Militia units may exist under an individual PAFD.

Nature of PLA Control in Specific Incidents

While not all PAFMM activities at sea are directly controlled by the PLA in real time, the ones of greatest concern to the United States and its allies and security partners are PLA-affiliated. A PLA-mandated approval process for mobilizing the PAFMM is always involved in events that include its use. Due to the dual-responsibility system, local governments are often involved in providing leadership over PAFMM forces when they are mobilized. Depending on the type of missions assigned, local governments and government agencies will both assume relevant roles to facilitate the missions of the PAFMM, thereby ensuring “unified leadership” (统一领导) between the local military and government organs.

Critically, deliberate participation by PAFMM forces in international sea incidents occurs directly under the PLA chain of command, at least in a supervisory capacity. Moreover, some leading elements of the PAFMM appear to be increasingly professionalized and militarized; the most advanced among them may draw a generous salary with no fishing or other civil economic employment whatsoever.[xxii] This trend would certainly make management and training of the PAFMM easier for PLA authorities. Increasingly capable PAFMM forces may also be bolstered by the continued downsizing of the PLA Army as veterans comprise priority recruitment by MDs. Although the following examples are from the South China Sea, abundant evidence indicates that similar control structures are present in the MDs in coastal provinces bordering the East China Sea and the Yellow Sea.

Activities are also initiated by non-PLA organs, albeit with PLA approval, in a general supervisory role attentive to the condition of units and their vessels. These include basic recurrent peacetime tasks such as fishing, typhoon response and other disaster relief organized by local governments, search and rescue missions to assist the CCG, presence missions in disputed waters, and the expulsion of foreign fishermen from Chinese-claimed waters. Examples of non-recurrent assignments not known to involve PLA initiation include the following. In March 2009 Sanya’s Maritime Militia participated in the harassment of the USNS Impeccable. In March 2014, it participated in the search for missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, likely within the confines of the South China Sea. In April 2013 Sanya’s Maritime Militia protected China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC)’s surveying operations south of Triton Island.

The harassment of the USNS Impeccable is a fitting example. Fisheries Law Enforcement (FLE) under the direction of FLE South China Sea Bureau Director Wu Zhuang commanded the fishing vessels that impeded the U.S. survey vessel’s operations.[xxiii] Having established a PAFMM unit in 2009,[xxiv] the Sanya Fugang Fisheries Company grassroots PAFD would thus have requested mission approval from its superiors in the district or municipal PAFDs in Sanya City, notifying their PLA superiors at a minimum. The degree to which the PLA was involved in harassment of the USNS Impeccable is still unclear; at least one PLAN vessel was on the scene. However, the fact that the Sanya fishing vessels involved were in the PAFMM would necessitate PLA awareness of FLE intentions regarding the incident.

PAFMM activities documented to have been initiated and guided by PLA organs include direct participation in the following international sea incidents pre-planned by China: the 1974 seizure of the Western Paracels from Vietnam, reconnaissance and sovereignty patrols during the February 2014 blockade of Second Thomas Shoal, and the 2014 repulsion of Vietnamese vessels from disputed waters surrounding the CNOOC HYSY-981 oil rig.

The 2012 Scarborough Shoal Standoff shows how the PLA can mobilize militia forces already at sea. Available sources do not reveal a direct PLA connection to the initial PAFMM-related encounters that sparked the April 2012 Scarborough Shoal Standoff. However, reports on members of the PAFMM unit present and their actions at Scarborough Shoal suggest PLA involvement in subsequent command and control of PAFMM operations to help seize the feature from the Philippines.

When Philippine naval forces arrived at Scarborough Shoal on 10 April 2012, Chinese militiamen from the Port of Tanmen in Hainan Province provided their first reports to a Border Defense Force Control Station located in their home port, which in turn alerted a civilian law enforcement agency (China Marine Surveillance, now part of the CCG) to come to their aid. PAFMM-produced reporting on events at sea is shared among the local military commands, PLAN, and CCG; the Tanmen Maritime Militia alone is credited with providing 510 pieces of “valuable intelligence” in recent years.[xxv] Among the six Tanmen fishing vessels initially inside Scarborough Shoal’s lagoon, two were commanded by known Tanmen Maritime Militia squad leaders Chen Zebo and Xu Detan. The owner of fishing vessel Qionghai 02096 and likely a militia member, Yu Ning, transmitted several messages that alerted the PAP Border Defense Control Station of the unfolding situation and the identity of the approaching Philippine naval vessel BRP Gregorio del Pilar. The station’s attendant then rapidly issued a quick brief that was probably shared with PLAN and MLE forces.[xxvi] While the Tanmen Militia contingent was escorted away after the initial standoff by MLE vessels, their subsequent mobilization and return to the vicinity of the shoal under the company’s deputy commander, who then led the unit from outside the shoal, suggests PLA approval of such mobilization.

The PLA communicates with PAFMM vessels at sea by using a communications suite required by the MD Command to be present aboard all militia vessels. Moreover, to join the PAFMM, a Chinese fishing vessel or enterprise must meet certain capability and reliability requirements before gaining membership; many are thus ineligible. Vessels are inspected to ensure they have the onboard equipment[xxvii] to stay connected to the PAFD and can respond wherever they are located. This is central to the ISR reporting of the PAFMM, a persistent function that occurs regularly and independently outside of missions and training.[xxviii] While exact reporting protocol varies, it appears that PAFMM reporting follows the same channels that their mobilization orders originate from, the MD Command system and their PAFDs, which subsequently is shared with other agencies. During PAFMM personnel training, PAFDs provide specialized training to “information personnel” in target identification and reporting protocol. MLE forces are also involved in these information-sharing channels, but direct PAFMM to MLE vessel reporting requirements remain unclear or perhaps temporary or conditional.[xxix] Nonetheless, PAFMM forces make regular contributions to China’s maritime domain awareness, regardless of mobilization status.

Key Actors: The Leading Units

The PAFMM organizational structure resembles an enormous pyramid with a broad base. The vast majority of the thousands of Maritime Militia personnel and vessels handle relatively mundane tasks, such as supporting basic port security, in undisputed shoreline areas of no direct concern to foreign nations or navies.[xxx] An elite subset is entrusted with operating far from Mainland China’s coastline and monitoring, approaching, and engaging with other foreign sea actors as necessary, including in international sea incidents. This is evident in both articles authored by PLA leaders and actual unit construction.[xxxi]

These advanced units can be defined specifically because they are distinctive and few. They are the frontline irregular forces that the United States and its allies and partners will most likely encounter in the Near Seas (Yellow, East China, and South China Seas). With respect to the South China Sea, most known leading units are based in Hainan Province, which according to Chinese policy statements administers the vast majority of the South China Sea. Four major PAFMM units dominate Hainan’s Maritime Militia operations in the South China Sea. The Danzhou Militia, still active and developing today, is the successor to the militia company that played an important role in the 1974 Battle of the Paracel Islands wherein China wrested the Western Paracels from Vietnam. The Tanmen Militia, established in 1985, supported early first-generation-structure construction on such Chinese-occupied Spratly features as Mischief Reef in the 1990s and more recently played a key role in China’s 2012 takeover of Scarborough Shoal. President Xi Jinping visited the Tanmen Militia in April 2013. Sanya City’s Maritime Militia had a frontline role in disrupting USNS Impeccable’s operations in March 2009. Maritime Militia units from across Hainan Province, including key units from Sanya and Tanmen, participated in the two-month-long incident over an oil rig placed inside Vietnam’s claimed EEZ in 2014.[xxxii] The latest leading unit is the Sansha City Maritime Militia headquartered on the Paracels’ Woody Island, a prefectural-level city responsible for administering China’s South China Sea claims, including in the Paracels, Macclesfield Bank and Scarborough Shoal, and the Spratlys.

In Sansha, China is generating a new model for PAFMM development. The militia in the Sansha City Fisheries Development Company was established to be a professional paramilitary force first and foremost, with fishing a secondary mission at best. Sansha Maritime Militia members have been photographed loading crates labeled “light weapons” onto one of their several dozen newly delivered large vessels, all of which boast mast-mounted water cannons, collision-absorbing rails, and reinforced hulls—highly useful features for aggressive spraying and ramming. The largest Sansha Maritime Militia vessels are 59 meters long with 9 meters beam, and likely displace approximately 750 tons. Their smaller counterparts are likely closer to 600 tons.[xxxiii] All have considerable displacement and are longer than the Parola-class patrol vessels Japan is constructing for the Philippines.[xxxiv]Some of these new ships reportedly have a “weapons and equipment room” and an “ammunition store.”[xxxv]

Sansha is taking the blue hull role in China’s three-tier Navy-MLE-Maritime Militia “joint defense” to a new level of frontline capability, centered on a $6 million command center. This force also operates “informatized” outposts on at least two Paracel Islands that monitor proximal seas. PLA leaders have indicated that these initial outposts will be replicated in the Spratlys, and have begun construction on three other features in the Paracels. Already, the Sansha Garrison has established a PAFD on Fiery Cross Reef and a PAFMM element on Mischief Reef, foreshadowing a future permanent PAFMM presence in the Spratlys.


PAFMM_Identity, Organization & PLA Connection_PHOTO_1

Ta Kung Pao, 14 July 2016: One of Sansha City’s newly-built PAFMM fishing vessels, “Qiongsanshayu 00111” (琼三沙渔), participates in the “2016 Sansha Maritime Emergency Response Exercise” hosted by the Hainan Maritime Safety Administration. Shown in this photo conducting firefighting and rescue operations, this is one example of the new elite PAFMM forces’ vessels under construction for Sansha City.

PAFMM_Identity, Organization & PLA Connection_PHOTO_2

China Military Online, 24 September 2016: (Guangdong Province) Zhanjiang Maritime Militia come alongside a PLAN vessel for training. The appearance of these fishing vessels is typical of regular PRC fishing vessels.

PAFMM_Identity, Organization & PLA Connection_PHOTO_3

China Military Online, 24 September 2016: (Guangdong Province) Zhanjiang Maritime Militia shown conducting Petroleum, Oil, and Lubricants (POL) resupply training with the PLAN wearing clearly marked green uniforms. Collar insignia reads “GDMB” (“Guangdong Minbing”). Most militia uniforms only feature the letters “MB” on collar insignia without additional geographic designator abbreviations.

PAFMM_Identity, Organization & PLA Connection_PHOTO_4

Hainan Daily, 5 January 2015: (Hainan Province) Tanmen Maritime Militia are assembled wearing a different style of uniform. The Tanmen Maritime Militia have also appeared wearing the army-style green camouflage uniforms shown in the previous photo of the Zhanjiang Maritime Militia.


PAFMM_Identity, Organization & PLA Connection_PHOTO_5

China Military Online, 23 July 2016: A PLAN South Sea Fleet base, most likely the Yulin Navy Base given its mobilization of Sanya City’s Maritime Militia in this instance, held a joint defense exercise including PLAN ships, submarines, aircraft, shore-based guided missiles, special forces, and public security forces; as well as both land-based militia and the Maritime Militia. This photo shows a Maritime Militia unit from Sanya City’s Tianya district participating in the exercise, wearing blue uniforms clearly indicating their identity as “Tianya Militia” (天涯民兵) on the shoulder patch.


PAFMM_Identity, Organization & PLA Connection_PHOTO_6

The November 2016 issue of China’s Militia covering the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region’s border and coastal defense work featured this image of non-uniformed PAFMM personnel during inspection. The article also described one of the militia’s requisite characteristics as: “putting on military uniforms [they] qualify as soldiers, taking off the uniforms they qualify as citizens” (穿上军装做合格战士, 脱下军装做合格公民).[xxxvi]



Andrew S. Erickson, “Passing a Chinese Maritime ‘Trump Test’,” The National Interest, 15 December 2016, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/passing-chinese-maritime-trump-test-18754.

Andrew S. Erickson, “The South China Sea’s Third Force: Understanding and Countering China’s Maritime Militia,” Testimony before the House Armed Services Committee Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, Hearing on Seapower and Projection Forces in the South China Sea, Washington, DC, 21 September 2016, http://docs.house.gov/meetings/AS/AS28/20160921/105309/HHRG-114-AS28-Wstate-EricksonPhDA-20160921.pdf.

Conor M. Kennedy and Andrew S. Erickson, “Riding a New Wave of Professionalism and Militarization: Sansha City’s Maritime Militia,” Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), 1 September 2016, http://cimsec.org/riding-new-wave-professionalization-militarization-sansha-citys-maritime-militia/27689.

Andrew S. Erickson and Conor M. Kennedy, “Countering China’s Third Sea Force: Unmask Maritime Militia before They’re Used Again,” The National Interest, 6 July 2016, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/countering-chinas-third-sea-force-unmask-maritime-militia-16860.

Andrew S. Erickson and Conor M. Kennedy, “Chapter 5: China’s Maritime Militia,” in Rear Admiral Michael McDevitt, USN (ret.), ed., Becoming a Great “Maritime Power”: A Chinese Dream (Arlington, VA: CNA Corporation, June 2016), 62-83, https://www.cna.org/CNA_files/PDF/IRM-2016-U-013646.pdf.

Andrew S. Erickson and Conor M. Kennedy, “China’s Maritime Militia: What It Is and How to Deal with It,” Foreign Affairs, 23 June 2016, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2016-06-23/chinasmaritime-militia.

Conor M. Kennedy and Andrew S. Erickson, “From Frontier to Frontline: Tanmen Maritime Militia’s Leading Role—Part 2,” CIMSEC, 17 May 2016, http://cimsec.org/frontier-frontline-tanmen-maritime-militias-leading-role-pt-2/25260.

Conor M. Kennedy and Andrew S. Erickson, “Model Maritime Militia: Tanmen’s Leading Role in the 2012 Scarborough Shoal Incident,” CIMSEC, 26 April 2016, http://cimsec.org/model-maritime-militia-tanmens-leading-role-april-2012-scarborough-shoal-incident/24573.

Andrew S. Erickson and Conor M. Kennedy, “China’s Maritime Militia,” CNA Corporation, 7 March 2016, https://www.cna.org/cna_files/pdf/Chinas-Maritime-Militia.pdf.

Andrew S. Erickson and Conor M. Kennedy, “Trailblazers in Warfighting: The Maritime Militia of Danzhou,” CIMSEC, 1 February 2016, http://cimsec.org/trailblazers-warfighting-maritime-militia-danzhou/21475.

Andrew S. Erickson and Conor M. Kennedy, “China’s Daring Vanguard: Introducing Sanya City’s Maritime Militia,” CIMSEC, 5 November 2015, http://cimsec.org/chinas-daring-vanguard-introducing-sanya-citys-maritime-militia/19753.

Andrew S. Erickson and Conor M. Kennedy, “Irregular Forces at Sea: Not ‘Merely Fishermen’—Shedding Light on China’s Maritime Militia,” CIMSEC, 2 November 2015, http://cimsec.org/new-cimsec-series-on-irregular-forces-at-sea-not-merely-fishermen-shedding-light-on-chinas-maritime-militia/19624.

Andrew S. Erickson, “Making Waves in the South China Sea,” A ChinaFile Conversation, The Asia Society, 30 October 2015, http://www.chinafile.com/conversation/making-waves-south-china-sea.

Andrew S. Erickson and Conor M. Kennedy, “Directing China’s ‘Little Blue Men’: Uncovering the Maritime Militia Command Structure,” Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, Center for Strategic and International Studies, 11 September 2015, https://amti.csis.org/directing-chinas-little-blue-men-uncovering-the-maritime-militia-command-structure/.

Andrew S. Erickson and Conor M. Kennedy, “Tanmen Militia: China’s ‘Maritime Rights Protection’ Vanguard,” The National Interest, 6 May 2015, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/tanmen-militia-china%E2%80%99s-maritime-rights-protection-vanguard-12816.

Andrew S. Erickson and Conor M. Kennedy, “China’s Island Builders: The People’s War at Sea,” Foreign Affairs, 9 April 2015, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/east-asia/2015-04-09/china-s-island-builders.

Andrew S. Erickson and Conor M. Kennedy, “Meet the Chinese Maritime Militia Waging a ‘People’s War at Sea’,” China Real Time Report (中国实时报), Wall Street Journal, 31 March 2015, http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2015/03/31/meet-the-chinese-maritime-militia-waging-a-peoples-war-at-sea/.



[1] The views expressed here are the authors’ alone. They do not represent the estimates or policies of the U.S. Navy or any other organization of the U.S. government. A complete compilation of the authors’ analysis, together with related sources and data, is available at: http://www.andrewerickson.com/2017/03/china-open-source-example-shipyard-details-sansha-maritime-militia-vessel-with-weapons-and-equipment-room-and-ammunition-store/.

[2] “中国武装力量的多样化运用” [The Diversified Employment of China’s Armed Forces], Information Office of the State Council, People’s Republic of China, 2013, http://www.mod.gov.cn/affair/2013-04/16/content_4442839.htm.

[3] China’s “People’s Armed Forces System” is comprised of three bodies of personnel: the civilian People’s Armed Forces Cadres that man the grassroots PAFDs, the staff of grassroots PAFDs—usually veterans, and the militia.

[4] While exact numbers are difficult to calculate from open sources, a rough estimate within an order of magnitude can be established by sifting through reports on PAFMM units in the provinces. The scale and effective strength of a province’s PAFMM force are directly determined by its local conditions, such as the dynamism of its marine economy. The authors’ research on Hainan Province has identified 31 PAFMM units, all of which would be considered fendui (分队) or tactical-level-unit organizations (battalion, company, platoon, squad). While most counties establish at least one company-sized PAFMM unit, their size and capabilities vary tremendously. For example, some units can conduct missions in the Spratlys with their large-tonnage seagoing vessels while others stay in close to shore with their smaller, less capable vessels. Some specialized support units may not even possess vessels organic to their unit and must requisition them when training or conducting missions. In addition to the 31 units the authors have identified, there are also many other smaller militia elements on Hainan Island and stationed at outposts and PRC-occupied features in the South China Sea. One can notionally estimate the total number of personnel and vessels in Hainan’s PAFMM force by assuming that the 31 units are each the rough median size of a PAFMM company (approximately 120 personnel and 10 fishing vessels). This would yield a hypothetical total of 3,720 personnel and 310 vessels.

[5] “国防后备力量” [National Defense Reserve Force], Jinhu County People’s Government Double-Support Office, 20 October 2016, http://www.jinhu.gov.cn/art/2016/10/20/art_96_19469.html.

[6] Local military commands here refer to the levels of organization set up by the PLA in province-level administrative areas, forming what China terms “local military and government” (地方军地). Each military region (军区), recently reformed from 7 Military Regions into 5 Theater Commands (战区), contains several provinces and hence several Provincial Military Districts (省军区). The geographic area of responsibility by each Provincial Military District coincides with the borders of the provincial administrative area. As each province is divided into municipalities, each Provincial Military District is divided into multiple Military Subdistricts (军分区); within each Military Subdistrict are numerous county-level and grassroots People’s Armed Forces Departments. The county level PAFDs are staffed by active-duty personnel while the grassroots PAFDs are non-active duty organizations staffed by “full-time People’s Armed Forces cadres” (专职人民武装干部). The Provincial Military Districts oversee local PLA units and the reserves (both PLA reserves and PAF militia), including the militia work conducted by their subordinate Military Subdistricts and PAFDs within its area of responsibility. Each corresponding level of government in the provinces also shares responsibility for coordinating with their military counterparts, the equivalent level of local military command, to build and support the militia. This civilian-military division of responsibilities mitigates the costs and burdens of militia building on any single department.

[7] Like the PLA, militia units have Party organizations to implement the PLA’s political work. For example, militia companies have a Party branch with a political instructor. Platoons and squads also form Party Small Groups. Party members often become leading cadres in militia units. Party representation ensures Party control of the gun at the micro-levels of militia organization.

[8] Local governments can also make use of their administrative authorities to ensure smooth execution of PAFMM missions and training, as well as coordination among different bureaucracies (Maritime Safety Administration, CCG, etc.) when drafting emergency response plans that may entail mobilization of the militia. Local military commands also work with civilian governments to legislate rules and regulations for the use of PAFMM forces. This dual-responsibility system between local military and government authorities enables deeper civil-military integration and resource sharing in militia construction.

[9] 张践 [Zhang Jian], “围绕 ‘六化’ 抓建 推动海上民兵转型” [Advance the Transformation of Maritime Militia Centered on ‘Six Changes’], National Defense 10 (2015), http://kns55.en.eastview.com/kcms/detail/detail.aspx?recid=&FileName=GUOF201510009&DbName=CJFD2015&DbCode=CJFD; “钦州军分区着力提升实战能力 – 联训联演建强海上民兵” [The Qinzhou Military Subdistrict Strives to Enhance Combat Capability – Joint Exercises Strengthen the Maritime Militia], China Defense News, 15 July 2015, http://www.mod.gov.cn/power/2015-07/15/content_4601890.htm.

[10] To build the militia, the PLA receives direct allocations from central and provincial governments, and is required to submit budgets and reports for approval by government authorities. The PLA manages those funds internally through its chain of logistics departments. In addition, local governments compensate militia personnel directly for wages lost while participating in training. PAFMM costs introduce greater complexity in funding and compensation since elements of the force assist and receive support from multiple bureaucracies, such as MLE forces. Some sources suggest that whoever uses PAFMM units must provide a degree of support for those operations (谁用兵谁保障), implying that CCG may have to provide funding and material support to PAFMM units that it uses. As reflected in the dual-responsibility system of military and civilian leaders over the militia, military and civilian cooperation is required to fund the militia.

[11] Most county PAFDs are regimental grade organizations within the PLA grade structure, while PAFDs established in sub-provincial cities and their districts are deputy divisional grade organizations.

[12] “三沙市推动军警民联防机制 构建三线海上维权格局” [Sansha City Advances its Joint Military, MLE, Militia Defense System—Constructs a Three-line Maritime Rights Protection Layout], China News Online, 22 November 2014, http://www.chinanews.com/gn/2014/11-21/6803776.shtml; Interview with PLA Major General Liu Lianhua: “军队代表: 应从战略层面构建军警民海防体系” [Military Representative: [We] Should Strategically Construct a Military, Police, Militia Maritime Defense System], China News Online, 15 March 2013, http://www.chinacourt.org/article/detail/2013/03/id/922031.shtml.

[13] While a variety of militia uniforms can be observed in photos of militia training and assembly, there is no standard uniform for China’s militia forces. Militia uniforms often feature an insignia on the collar with two parallel lines interspersed with the letters “MB,” an abbreviation of the Chinese word for militia, “minbing.” Identification of PAFMM personnel is particularly difficult as they typically wear no uniforms while conducting operations at sea, thereby exploiting perceived advantages in their role as both military personnel and citizen marine workers.

[14] 刘卫华 [Liu Weihua], “军种主建, 民兵专业分队如何对接?” [Services Focus on Building, How Do Militia Specialized Detachments Correspond?], China Defense News, 27 January 2016, http://www.81.cn/mb/2016-01/27/content_7071697.htm; 吴维满 [Wu Weiman], “中国新型军兵种民兵分队上演兵场, 适应作战需要” [China’s New-type Service Militia Detachments Fielded as Soldiers, Adapting to Operational Requirements], PLA Daily, 27 December 2010, http://mil.sohu.com/20101227/n278525284.shtml.

[15] 郑一冰、钱晓虎 [Zheng Yibing and Qian Xiaohu], “后备新军: 万里海疆试锋刃- 我国海军民兵专业分队扫描” [New Reserve Forces: Testing the Vanguard of the Vast Maritime Frontier—A Review of China’s Naval Militia Specialized Detachments], China’s Militia 4 (2007), http://kns55.en.eastview.com/kcms/detail/detail.aspx?recid=&FileName=MMZG200704042&DbName=cjfd2007&DbCode=CJFD.

[16] Chinese sources express this in variations of a similar phrase, such as “putting on camouflage they qualify as soldiers, taking off camouflage they are law abiding fishermen” (穿上迷彩是合格战士, 脱下迷彩是守法渔民). “广西北海军分区加强海上民兵建设 提升装备效能” [Beihai Military Subdistrict of Guangxi Strengthens Maritime Militia Construction, Increases Equipment Performance], PLA Daily, 6 January 2014, http://www.chinanews.com/mil/2014/01-06/5700496.shtml.

[17] “科学构建海上民兵管控体系” [Scientifically Construct a Management System for the Maritime Militia], National Defense 12 (2014), http://kns55.en.eastview.com/kcms/detail/detail.aspx?recid=&FileName=GUOF201412038&DbName=CJFD2014&DbCode=CJFD.

[18] 郑陵晨 [Zheng Lingchen], “发挥好海上民兵优势 打好军民融合攻坚战” [Make Full Use of the Advantages of the Maritime Militia and Fight a Tough Battle in Civil-Military Fusion], China Navy News, 31 October 2016, http://navy.81.cn/content/2016-10/31/content_7334774.htm.

[19] The “Three Warfares” refers to the use of public opinion warfare, psychological warfare, and legal warfare to assert influence in support China’s national objectives. For more information, see Elsa Kania, “The PLA’s Latest Strategic Thinking on the Three Warfares,” Jamestown: China Brief 16.13 (22 August 2016), https://jamestown.org/program/the-plas-latest-strategic-thinking-on-the-three-warfares/; 郑凌晨 [Zheng Lingchen], “发挥好海上民兵优势 – 打好军民融合攻坚战” [Give Full Play to the Advantages of the Maritime Militia – Fighting a Civilian-Military Integrated Battle], China Navy Online, 31 October 2016, http://navy.81.cn/content/2016-10/31/content_7334774.htm.

[20] 徐海峰 [Xu Haifeng], “适应新形势 全面规范海上民兵建设 ” [Adapting to New Circumstances— Comprehensively Standardize Maritime Militia Construction], National Defense, No. 2 (2014), http://kns55.en.eastview.com/kcms/detail/detail.aspx?recid=&FileName=GUOF201402048&DbName=CJFD2014&DbCode=CJFD.

[21] Ibid.

[xxii] This report draws heavily on the authors’ research on PAFMM from Hainan Province operating in the South China Sea, which has identified and evaluated a variety of PAFMM units province-wide. They have identified an elite subset of units greater in capability and readiness than the bulk of other units; as well as recruiting preferences for more experienced mariners and PLA veterans, particularly in the Sansha City Maritime Militia.

[xxiii] Ryan D. Martinson, “From Words to Action: The Creation of the China Coast Guard,” CNA Corporation, 29 July 2015, 20, https://www.cna.org/cna_files/pdf/creation-china-coast-guard.pdf; “中国渔政 蓝色国土的守护者” [China’s Fisheries Law Enforcement—Protectors of the Nation’s Blue Territory], Lianjiang City Oceanic and Fisheries Administration Information Network, 22 February 2011, http://www.ljhyj.gov.cn/Shownews.asp?Sid=79.

[xxiv] “林同兴与林心瑞与魏立凤与三亚福港实业有限公司单位行贿罪刑事二审裁定书” [Appeal Ruling on the Lin Tongxing, Lin Xinrui, Wei Lifeng, and Sanya Fugang Fisheries Co. Ltd. Bribery Case], Hainan Province Haikou Municipal Intermediate People’s Court, 28 December 2015, http://openlaw.cn/judgement/4386f3505aaf46988c35dca2097d1b60.

[xxv] 王春棠 [Wang Chuntang], “渔民保护神: 海南潭门海上民兵连守护南海29年” [Protectors of the Fishermen: The Hainan Tanmen Maritime Militia Company Guards the South China Sea for 29 Years], Business Daily of International Tourism Island, 6 January 2014, http://sansha.hinews.cn/system/2014/01/06/016357550.shtml.

[xxvi] This dynamic was expressed in 2007 by authors from the PLAN HQ Military Affairs Department and resulted in PAFMM unit construction in Zhejiang Province. “依托海上民船民兵建立侦察信息体系” [Establish a Reconnaissance System Based on Civilian Vessels and Militia], National Defense 6, 2007, http://kns55.en.eastview.com/kcms/detail/detail.aspx?recid=&FileName=GUOF200706034&DbName=cjfd2007&DbCode=CJFD; “浙江省宁波市国动委加强海上动员力量建设记事” [Chronicle of Zhejiang Province, Ningbo City’s National Defense Mobilization Committee Strengthening Construction of Maritime Mobilization Forces], National Defense News, 25 May 2015, http://www.mod.gov.cn/mobilize/2015-05/25/content_4586486.htm; 徐海峰 [Xu Haifeng], “适应新形势 全面规范海上民兵建设” [Adapting to New Circumstances— Comprehensively Standardize Maritime Militia Construction], National Defense, No. 2 (2014), http://kns55.en.eastview.com/kcms/detail/detail.aspx?recid=&FileName=GUOF201402048&DbName=CJFD2014&DbCode=CJFD.

[xxvii] Communications equipment central to fisheries management as well as command of the PAFMM includes China’s indigenous Beidou satellite navigation system, which features transmission capability of 120 Chinese characters per message, conveying significant content thanks to Chinese characters’ unique logographic nature.

[xxviii] 廖刚斌, 王牌, 熊睿 [Liao Gangbin, Wang Pai, and Xiong Rui], “海上民兵分队建设存在的问题与对策” [Issues and Measures in Maritime Militia Unit Construction], National Defense 8 (2014), http://kns55.en.eastview.com/kcms/detail/detail.aspx?recid=&FileName=GUOF201408006&DbName=CJFD2014&DbCode=CJFD; “Scientifically Construct a Management System for the Maritime Militia], National Defense 12 (2014); 徐海峰 [Xu Haifeng], “适应新形势 全面规范海上民兵建设” [Adapting to New Circumstances— Comprehensively Standardize Maritime Militia Construction], National Defense, No. 2 (2014), http://kns55.en.eastview.com/kcms/detail/detail.aspx?recid=&FileName=GUOF201402048&DbName=CJFD2014&DbCode=CJFD.

[xxix] 徐海峰 [Xu Haifeng], “适应新形势 全面规范海上民兵建设” [Adapting to New Circumstances— Comprehensively Standardize Maritime Militia Construction], National Defense, No. 2 (2014), http://kns55.en.eastview.com/kcms/detail/detail.aspx?recid=&FileName=GUOF201402048&DbName=CJFD2014&DbCode=CJFD; “浙江省加强海上民兵建设” [Zhejiang Province Strengthens Maritime Militia Construction], Xinhua Wang, 4 December 2013, http://news.xinhuanet.com/mil/2013-12/04/c_125806747.htm; 徐海峰 [Xu Haifeng], “适应新形势 全面规范海上民兵建设” [Adapting to New Circumstances— Comprehensively Standardize Maritime Militia Construction], National Defense, No. 2 (2014), http://kns55.en.eastview.com/kcms/detail/detail.aspx?recid=&FileName=GUOF201402048&DbName=CJFD2014&DbCode=CJFD; “福安市人武部组织海上民兵信息员集训” [Fu’an City PAFD Organizes Maritime Militia Information Personnel Collective Training], Fujian National Defense Education Network, 19 September 2014, http://mil.fjsen.com/2014-09/19/content_14905500.htm.

[xxx] Among the issues beyond this report’s scope is the great diversity of unit types and functions in militia forces, even within the PAFMM alone. Due to limited capabilities and training resources, many PAFMM units are given a narrow set of mission tasks on which to focus, often in line with their civilian professional specialties, such as transport, medical rescue, supply, and reconnaissance. This division of labor and functional specialization increases the utility of individual units. As mentioned earlier, militia unit sizes are largely restricted to tactical-levels of organization usually employing army-style terms, thereby forming “squads,” “platoons,” “companies,” and “battalions.” Most PAFMM units are typically company-sized and similarly use army terms. Some reports, by contrast, refer to PAFMM units using naval-style terminology such as “squadron” (中队).

[xxxi] After becoming head of the CMC National Defense Mobilization Department’s Militia Reserves Bureau in 2016, Major General Wang Wenqing wrote in National Defense News about solutions to solving PAFMM problems, including the construction of an elite effective maritime militia forces for “year-round missions guarding the ocean frontier.” See “破解海上民兵建设难题” [Resolving Issues in Maritime Militia Construction], National Defense News, 28 July 2016, www.81.cn/gfbmap/content/2016-07/28/content_151895.htm. This is also reflected in articles written by Hainan Provincial Military District Commander Zhang Jian and Political Commissar Liu Xin: 张践 [Zhang Jian], “围绕‘六化’抓建 推动海上民兵转型” [Advance Transformation of the Maritime Militia Centered on Six Changes], National Defense 10 (2015), http://kns55.en.eastview.com/kcms/detail/detail.aspx?recid=&FileName=GUOF201510009&DbName=CJFD2015&DbCode=CJFD; 刘新[Liu Xin], “面向复杂多变海洋安全环境, 着力抓好海上民兵维权准备” [Geared Towards a Complex and Volatile Maritime Security Environment—Focus on Preparing Maritime Militia Rights Protection], National Defense 12 (2015), http://kns55.en.eastview.com/kcms/detail/detail.aspx?recid=&FileName=GUOF201512011&DbName=CJFD2015&DbCode=CJFD.

[xxxii] A knowledgeable source has described to one of the authors his experience aboard a Sanya Maritime Militia vessel. He observed substantial “T-bar” type reinforcements inside the hull. Unlike a normal fishing vessel, there was no sight or smell of anything fish-related. Personnel aboard appeared extremely professional and specialized, with a military-style bearing quite different from that of normal fishermen.

[xxxiii] Tonnage estimates were made by: (1) searching for names of known Sansha Maritime Militia at marinetraffic.com, which lists their respective displacement, length, and beam; (2) using these data and estimating draft at no more than 3 meters for vessels in this size category, and (3) employing a block coefficient to calculate displacement.

[xxxiv] Pia Lee-Brago, “Philippines to Get Nine More Patrol Vessels from Japan,” The Philippine Star, 14 October 2016, http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2016/10/14/1633448/philippines-get-9-more-patrol-vessels-japan.

[xxxv] Guangzhou Taicheng Shipbuilding Industry Co. Ltd. (广州市泰诚船舶工业有限公司) provides services for the vessels produced at Xijiang Shipyard in Liuzhou and Huangpu Wenchong Shipyard in Guangzhou, both subsidiaries of China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC). These shipyards have produced a number of the new vessels built specifically for the Sansha Maritime Militia, and have subcontracted additional companies to install subsystems and finish other interior elements of the fleet’s vessels in preparation for delivery. In December 2015, among its advertised services, Taicheng Shipbuilding’s website featured one of the Sansha Maritime Militia vessels that it furnished for the vessel’s producer, Xijiang Shipyard. It is a light trapping vessel capable of employing a falling net to trap squid, a fairly-common commercial design. However, photos contained on the webpage show it to be the vessel Qiongsanshayu 000212; which other open sources reveal to be a ship in the new fleet of Sansha Maritime Militia vessels delivered to the state-run Sansha City Fisheries Development Company that operate under the guise of fishing. Among the numerous details and specifications concerning Qiongsanshayu 000212’s interior furnishing is a listing of two rooms, respectively titled “weapons and equipment room” (武备库) and “ammunition store” (弹药库). Details available in other open sources, some of which show the Sansha Maritime Militia training to load light weapons onto the deck of these new vessels, help confirm the intended roles and identities of this new militia fleet. “2015年12月西江船厂58.5米灯光罩网渔船交船” [Xijiang Shipyard’s 58.5 Meter Light Trap Falling-net Fishing Vessel Delivered in December 2015], Taicheng Shipyard, 12 December 2015. Original URL: http://www.tcship.com/news-show.php?lm=1&id=20. Complete document and accompanying photos now available at: http://www.andrewerickson.com/2017/03/china-open-source-example-shipyard-details-sansha-maritime-militia-vessel-with-weapons-and-equipment-room-and-ammunition-store/.

[xxxvi] “‘边海’二字重千钧” [“Borders and the Sea” Two Very Serious Words], China’s Militia 11 (2016), 30-32.


Conor M. Kennedy and Andrew S. Erickson, “Hainan’s Maritime Militia: All Hands on Deck for Sovereignty, Pt. 3,” Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), 26 April 2017.

Part I and II of this conclusion to our series on Hainan’s maritime militia discussed the Hainan Provincial Military District (MD) leadership’s approach to constructing maritime militia forces in response to national militia guidelines and how they address challenges during construction efforts. This final installment in our series offers a glimpse into what the Hainan MD’s efforts have yielded in force scale. It also examines the incentives motivating the builders of this force, such as political drivers and pressures confronting local officials. The conclusion also outlines issues meriting further observation and analysis, such as the significance of the Sansha Maritime Militia force for China’s third sea force more broadly, and the degree to which Chinese officials frame related efforts as part of a “People’s War.”

Although this series has discussed in depth four key locations for maritime militia development, they are part of a far broader effort by the entire Hainan MD. The maritime militia units of Sanya, Danzhou, Tanmen, and Sansha should not be seen in isolation, but rather as elements of the Hainan MD militia force system. Directed by national militia construction guidelines and a highly publicized visit by paramount leader Xi Jinping to the Tanmen Maritime Militia, every other county in Hainan Province has established singular or multiple maritime militia units. These include districts of the provincial capital Haikou and many other directly administered and autonomous counties. Additional noteworthy maritime militia units are located in Lingshui CountyChengmai CountyChangjiang Li Autonomous CountyWanning City, and Dongfang City. While our research to date has not revealed them to be on the same level of the four leading units in the totality of their documented capabilities or achievements, they nonetheless merit further examination. Dongfang and Wanning Cities’ maritime militia, for example, participated in defense of China’s HYSY-981 oil rig alongside the better-known Sanya and Tanmen maritime militia units.

Below is a map depicting all of the 31 maritime militia units under the Hainan MD jurisdiction identified as we conducted research for this series. …


Conor M. Kennedy and Andrew S. Erickson, “Hainan’s Maritime Militia: Development Challenges and Opportunities, Pt. 2,” Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), 10 April 2017.

As it works to improve its maritime militia, Hainan Province is engaged in multiple lines of effort. It confronts many of the same multifarious challenges that other provinces face in constructing their own maritime militia forces. These include strengthening legal frameworks, bolstering incentive structures, constructing infrastructure, and the perennial task of organizing and improving militia training. Hainan thus offers a leading-edge microcosm of the trials and triumphs of Chinese Maritime Militia development, and a bellwether of progress in managing the sprawling effort. Part 1 of this three-part coverage of maritime militia building in Hainan Province surveyed the role of provincial officials and programs, especially at the Provincial Military District (MD) level, as well as their achievements to date; Part 2 now examines in depth the remaining hurdles and bottlenecks that they are grappling with in the process. It will explain specific measures that the Hainan MD is taking to address the abovementioned issues. These include newly promulgated regulations, specific construction projects, breakthroughs in training, increased funding, and examples of the range of direct and indirect benefits maritime militia enjoy through their service.

Challenges in Policy Execution

As explained in Part 1, the Central Military Commission National Defense Mobilization Department (CMC-NDMD) promulgates guidance for nationwide maritime militia work. Provinces, for their part, must flesh out the details in law, plans, and implementation. Numerous reports on the maritime militia by various levels of PLA commands exhort provincial governments to enact more robust laws to help govern the maritime militia. While it is difficult for outsiders to access local laws on the maritime militia, PRC news reports reveal the progress provinces are making in bolstering legal mechanisms for maritime militia mobilization. They often lament the lack of legal basis for fully implementing mobilization work, specifically the lack of legal authority in enforcing and supporting the missions of the maritime militia. One recent report from Zhejiang Province’s Wenzhou City Military Subdistrict (MSD) illuminates these efforts, representing an East China Sea-based case of this broader trend permeating China’s coastal provinces. The Wenzhou MSD struggled to levy fines on maritime militia units that refused to fulfill their duty in training exercises. The abdication of duties by some maritime militiamen triggered an effort by this MSD to evaluate the Wenzhou Court system and the Fisheries Law Enforcement Department, both of which had no legal authority to enact the punishments sought by the Wenzhou MSD.

The MSD therefore established a Maritime Mobilization Office of Legislative Affairs (海上动员法治办公室) to head efforts at drafting local rules and regulations in coordination with the city government. Ensuing maritime militia regulations drawn and passed included “Measures on Maritime Militia Intelligence and Information Incentives” (海上民兵情报信息奖励办法), “Specifications for Maritime Militia Party Organization Construction” (海上民兵党组织建设规范), “Regulations on the Education and Management of Fishing Vessels and Crews on Missions” (任务渔船船员教育管理规定), and other regulations pertaining to the mobilization of reserve forces and requisition of vessels. Troops were reportedly “stunned” when one ship repair yard that refused to cooperate in registering for national defense mobilization was fined and compelled to fulfill its duties. Whereas previous attempts by local military organs to enforce penalties against militiamen abandoning their duties were often described as “loud thunder but little rain,” Wenzhou’s courts now have the teeth to enforce national defense mobilization requisition rules. Additionally, this ordeal shows that military organs have limited legal authority over the militia; and according to Militia Work Regulations (Chapter 8), must rely on local governments or the affiliated enterprise or institution of the perpetrating militia for enforcement. Improved legal measures such as Wenzhou’s allows government and military organs to impose costs for discipline violations in the maritime militia, which directly enhances the maritime militia’s responsiveness and assures their participation in training and missions. The Hainan MD’s leadership has also expressed urgency in strengthening institutional and legal support for its maritime militia development. Specific legal measures appear to be drafted by governments below the provincial level. Like Wenzhou, Sansha City promulgated similar regulations, such as “Measures for the Regular Management of Maritime Militia” and “Rules on the Use of Militia Participating in Maritime Rights Protection and Law Enforcement Actions.”

Significant variation among the economies of each province requires their respective military and civilian authorities to calibrate the incentive structure to motivate their maritime militia units effectively. No single rubric applies, as the Wenzhou MSD discovered when it realized the national standard of fines contained in “Regulations on National Defense Mobilization of Civil Transport Resources” (民用运力国防动员条例) was insufficient to prevent abdication of mobilization duty in economically vibrant Wenzhou. The head of Wenzhou MSD’s Maritime Mobilization Office of Legislative Affairs told reporters in April that compensation for fishing vessel requisition was an example of one area that “requires a great deal of research.” The current standard stipulates that authorities should normally compensate each vessel 10,000 RMB a day, rising to 20,000 RMB a day during the busy fishing season. In Wenzhou’s thriving marine economy, this standard has proven insufficient. The same problem plagued the People’s Armed Forces Department (PAFD) of Yazhou, one of Sanya City’s districts that now host the newly constructed Yazhou Central Fishing Port known to harbor Hainan’s maritime militia forces, as described in the articles on Sanya and Sansha in this series. In addition to hosting Hainan’s maritime militia forces, the Yazhou PAFD has also established its own unit, but experienced difficulties in motivating its unit during the peak period of the fishing season. As Hainan continues to modernize its fishing fleet through vessel upgrades and the replacement of old smaller vessels with larger tonnage fishing vessels, fishing enterprises will attain greater economies of scale. Mitigating lost income due to involvement in maritime militia activities will require increasing compensation.

Parallel efforts to incentivize service help motivate militiamen with financial incentives, including compensation for lost wages, injury, and equipment damage; as well as even reduced insurance costs. A survey conducted by the director of the Sansha Garrison Political Department in 2015 found that 42 percent of Sansha’s maritime militia attached greater importance to “material benefits” than “glory” in their service.

Chinese legislation for the compensation of the military, called the Regulations on Pensions and Preferential Treatments for Servicemen, also applies to the PAP and militia. To further encourage China’s militia to execute their missions, the Ministry of Civil Affairs’ codified the treatment of militia injured, missing, or killed in action in its Measures on the Support and Preferential Treatment of Militia Reserve Personnel Carrying out Diversified Military Missions, effective on 26 September 2014. These measures categorically list the various types of missions and conditions by which the member’s regimental-grade or above PLA commanding unit (county-level PAFDs are regimental-grade units) and the county-level government would determine the status of that member. Missions include supporting the PLA in combat and “participating in maritime rights protection missions.” Militia personnel can be granted the status of “martyr” (烈士), thereby entitling their families to receive money from local governments according to the militia member’s status. For example, survivors of a martyred militia member receive what are known as “Martyr Praise Funds” (褒扬金), equivalent to “30 times the national per capita disposable income.” In addition to “Martyr Praise Funds,” survivors also receive a one-time payment for the member’s “sacrifice in public service” (因公牺牲), equal to 40 months of pay. Under certain circumstances families can also receive annual payments for the militia member’s “sacrifice in public service,” which amounts to a maximum of 21,030 RMB (approximately U.S. $3,235) per the most recent adjustments by the Ministry of Civil Affairs. The military is also allowed to offer other “special payments.”

Militia members are also taken care of and provided for if injured and disabled in the course of their duties. Depending on militia members’ status and the classification of disability they fall under, they (or their families) are granted amounts in accordance with PLA disability compensation under the “Disabled Veterans Special Care Regulations” (伤残军人优抚条例). The standards of compensation are adjusted each year as the national average income changes. According to the most recent national adjustments to the standards of compensation, disabled militia members injured in combat can receive a maximum annual payout of 66,230 RMB (approximately U.S. $10,189) — an extremely generous sum in a fishing village. Major General Wang Wenqing wrote in July 2016 that “we must provide suitable treatment and pensions according to the law for those maritime militia that are injured or sacrificed in the course of their service.” In sum, while a number of regulations already exist to assure militia members their families are taken care of no matter what might happen, authorities continue to optimize incentives for their relatively riskier missions. … … …


Conor M. Kennedy and Andrew S. Erickson, “Hainan’s Maritime Militia: China Builds a Standing Vanguard, Pt. 1,” Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), 26 March 2017.

Through the U.S. Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute, the authors have just published China Maritime Report No. 1, entitled “China’s Third Sea Force, The People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia: Tethered to the PLA.” In it, they propose a more formal term for China’s maritime militia: the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM). The present article, the first in a three-part conclusion to their nine-part series on the PAFMM of Hainan Province, will instead use the term “maritime militia” to maintain consistency with all preceding installments and to facilitate discussion of China’s broader militia construction.

Hainan Province’s unique geography makes its buildup of maritime militia units the spear tip of China’s prosecution of gray zone operations in the South China Sea: as a standing, front-line force whose leading units are lauded as models for other localities to emulate. This series has therefore examined Hainan’s leading maritime militia units, located in SanyaDanzhou, Tanmen (in parts one and two), and Sansha. To understand these grassroots units and their development, it has delved deeply into their respective local environments. Having examined these leading entities in depth, it is time to take a province-wide look at larger policy processes and trends in implementation. This installment will also examine the intentions of China’s leaders to construct new elite militia units tailored to meet heightened requirements in China’s armed forces. This new type of front-line militia will serve as a standing force for more regular employment in support of China’s objectives at sea. Part 1 of this final series will therefore explore maritime militia building in a more systemic organizational context, chiefly at the Provincial Military District level; while Part 2 will address specific challenges and how they are managed. Part 3 will conclude this series by appraising the results of Hainan’s maritime militia construction effort and discussing some additional dynamics at play in the provinces. This first part will thus start by probing how a frontier province like Hainan responds to national level militia building initiatives and the measures taken by provincial leaders to see its implementation. … … …


Conor M. Kennedy and Andrew S. Erickson, “Riding a New Wave of Professionalization and Militarization: Sansha City’s Maritime Militia,” Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), 1 September 2016.

On 21 July 2013, several dozen Sansha City “residents” stood before the city government building and swore oaths during an inspection by Mayor Xiao Jie (肖杰) and his military counterpart Garrison Commander Cai Xihong (蔡喜宏). Clad in militia uniforms and toting Type-56 assault rifles, the Sansha Maritime Militia was officially established to uphold Chinese interests throughout the Paracels and beyond. According to the Garrison Commander, Sansha City’s Maritime Militia are given five major missions in China’s struggle for maritime rights protection: regular declarations of sovereignty, conducting reconnaissance and patrols, cooperating with maritime law enforcement, participating in marine rescue, and supporting combat operations. They also repel foreign fishing vessels, safeguard islands and reefs, and provide disaster relief for civilians living there. Such missions represent important, evolving roles for the militia as China seeks to reinforce its claims to the South China Sea. Sansha’s Maritime Militia is on the frontlines of this effort given the municipality’s responsibility for administering all Chinese-claimed features in the South China Sea.

We previously examined in depth the maritime militia forces of Sanya, Danzhou, and Tanmen (Parts One and Two). No examination of the maritime militia of Hainan Province would be complete, however, without scrutinizing the Sansha Maritime Militia. As China’s newest, southernmost municipality, Sansha City is a critical node in China’s South China Sea strategy. Given its responsibility to administer all of China’s claimed features within the nine-dashed line by Beijing, Sansha lies at the apex of Chinese civilian presence in the South China Sea and efforts to exercise administrative control over China’s claimed waters. To better grasp the range of tools China uses to achieve such control, deeper understanding of Sansha’s Maritime Militia is necessary.

Most importantly, recent organizational developments concerning the Sansha Maritime Militia demonstrate a new professionalization and militarization of China’s elite maritime militia forces. Indicators of increased professionalization include hiring recently separated veterans, standardization and enhancement of training, and in some cases lack of clear fishing responsibilities in return for payment of salaries. Key indicators of increased militarization include preparations to make small arms rapidly available to deploying units according to mission requirements, construction of new bases, deployment for noncommercial purposes, and introduction of new classes of vessels with dedicated weapons and ammunition storage rooms, reinforced hulls, and water cannons.

Significantly, the Sansha Maritime Militia is being created from scratch using personnel that receive extremely generous guaranteed salaries—seemingly independent of any fishing or marine industrial activity on their part, a dedicated arrangement that we have not seen elsewhere. This represents a significant departure from what we have described previously regarding the maritime militias at Sanya, Danzhou, and Tanmen. These militias were formed and evolved over years if not decades, drawing upon the community’s resident skills and resources. The majority of such militia members engaged in fundamentally civilian economic activities with occasional additional purposes assigned through a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) chain of command, including military law enforcement-style activities. While these three elite militias remain important to Chinese “rights protection” activities, Sansha City’s new, purpose-built militia may in the future be even more so. … … …


Andrew S. Erickson and Conor M. Kennedy, “Countering China’s Third Sea Force: Unmask Maritime Militia before They’re Used Again,” The National Interest, 6 July 2016.

As the South China Sea heats up, one of Beijing’s most important tools—its Maritime Militia or “Little Blue Men,” roughly equivalent at sea to Putin’s “Little Green Men” on land—offers it major rewards while threatening the U.S. and other potential opponents with major risks. When the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in the Hague announces its rulings on the Philippines-initiated maritime legal case with China on July 12—likely rejecting some key bases for excessive Chinese claims in the South China Sea—the Maritime Militia will offer a tempting tool for Beijing to try to teach Manila (and other neighbors) a lesson while frustrating American ability to calm troubled waters. This major problem with significant strategic implications is crying out for greater attention, and effective response. Accordingly, this article puts China’s Maritime Militia under the spotlight to explain what it is, why it matters and what to do about it.

To promote its disputed claims to features and maritime zones with increasing assertiveness, China is employing not one but three major sea forces—a potent three-pronged trident. In addition to what will soon be the world’s second-largest blue-water navy, and what is already the world’s largest blue-water coast guard, Beijing wields the world’s largest maritime militia, whose leading units are military-controlled forces trolling for territory. Most usefully in the peacetime coercion Beijing hopes to exclusively employ to advance its claims, China’s Maritime Militia remains the least recognized and understood of its sea forces. That needs to change—immediately.

Last October, when destroyer USS Lassen passed near Subi Reef, built up by Beijing in the Spratlys, merchant ships including fishing vessels maneuvered around it, having apparently anticipated its approach. China opposes such freedom of navigation operations categorically. In the future, to turn up the heat, while attempting to preserve plausible deniability and exploit perceived limitations in U.S. rules of engagement, China may employ Maritime Militia vessels more assertively to harass—and even attempt to thwart—such operations. Chinese propagandists might preemptively flood the airwaves with a misleading narrative of selectively edited footage of “civilian fishermen” being “unjustly attacked.” Leading People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) scholar and former deputy naval attaché to the United States Sr. Capt. Zhang Junshe seemed to be laying possible groundwork for just such a (mis)portrayal when he told Global Times that:

“waters adjacent to the Spratly Archipelago are the traditional fishing grounds of Chinese fishermen. For an American warship to barge into the adjacent waters constituted a threat to the normal operations of Chinese fishermen. The displacement of Chinese fishing vessels is small, and they have a shallow draft. They cannot withstand a collision. Americans show no remorse for their own actions or talk about the threat that a 10,000-ton warship represents for Chinese fishermen. Instead they hype up the ‘harassment’ of Chinese Maritime Militia. They are totally off base. There is absolutely no connection to the Maritime Militia.”

Yet, as of today, the U.S. government has demonstrated neither public awareness of the problem nor offered authoritative information to dispel such propaganda. Absent further preparations, this inaction could leave U.S. decisionmakers in a difficult position indeed. … … …


Andrew S. Erickson and Conor M. Kennedy, “Chapter 5: China’s Maritime Militia,” in Rear Admiral Michael McDevitt, USN (ret.), ed., Becoming a Great “Maritime Power”: A Chinese Dream (Arlington, VA: CNA Corporation, June 2016), 62–83.


An important component of China’s local armed forces is the militia. It supports China’s armed forces in a variety of functions, and is seeing expanded mission roles as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) continues to modernize. While the maritime militia is not a new addition to China’s militia system, it is receiving greater emphasis since China now aspires to become a great maritime power and because maritime disputes in China’s near seas are a growing concern.

No official definition of the maritime militia exists in the many sources the authors examined. However, in late 2012 the Zhoushan garrison commander, Zeng Pengxiang, and the garrison’s Mobilization Office described it concisely: “The Maritime Militia is an irreplaceable mass armed organization not released from production and a component of China’s ocean defense armed forces [that enjoys] low sensitivity and great leeway in maritime rights protection actions.”

The only estimate of the size of the maritime militia obtained during the course of this research was from a source published in 1978, which put the number of personnel at 750,000 on approximately 140,000 craft. In its 2010 defense white paper, China stated that it had 8 million primary militia members nationwide. The maritime militia is a smaller unique subset since it performs many of its missions at sea. However, an accurate number is not available. It is important to note that the maritime militia is distinct from both China’s coastal militia (shore based) and its naval reserve, although some coastal militia units have been transformed into maritime militia units.

History of China’s maritime militia

China’s militia system originated before the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) came to power, but the system of making numerous state-supported maritime militias out of the coastal populations was not fully implemented until the Communists began to exercise greater control of the coastline in the 1950s. This segment of China’s population had been relatively isolated from events on land and was subject to Japanese and Nationalist control in the decades before CCP rule was established. The CCP targeted the fishing communities, creating fishing collectives and work units, enacting strict organizational control, and conducting political education.146 Factors motivating and shaping this transformation included:

  • The PLA’s early use of civilian vessels
  • The need to prevent Nationalist Chinese (ROC) incursions along the coast
  • The need to man the maritime militia with fishermen, as there were too few other experienced mariners
  • Confrontations with other states’ fishing and naval vessels, due to the depletion of fishery resources.
  • The need to fish farther from shore, in contested waters.
  • The transformation from coastal defense militias to the at-sea maritime militia
  • Overall trends in militia development, including specialization, emergency response, technological units, and increased orientation towards supporting each of the PLA branches.

The maritime militia has played significant roles in a number of military campaigns and coercive incidents over the years, including:

  • The 1950s support of the PLA’s island seizure campaigns
  • The 1974 seizure of the western portion of the Paracels
  • The 2009 Impeccable incident
  • The 2011 harassment of Vietnam’s survey vessels (Viking II and Binh Minh)
  • The 2012 Scarborough Shoal standoff (Tanmen Militia present)
  • The 2014 Haiyang Shiyou-981 oil rig standoff. … … …


Andrew S. Erickson and Conor M. Kennedy, “China’s Maritime Militia: What It Is and How to Deal With It,” Foreign Affairs, 23 June 2016.

Last October, when the American destroyer USS Lassen sailed by Subi Reef, an artificial island built by China in the South China Sea, a number of Chinese merchant ships and fishing boats maneuvered around it, apparently having anticipated its approach. The Lassen was on a freedom of navigation operation, meant to demonstrate the United States’ commitment to maintaining open access to the area, much of which China claims as its own. China was using an unusual resource to broadcast its opposition to the trip: ships that appeared to be crewed by civilians, but in all likelihood were actually controlled by state-sponsored forces taking orders from China’s military.

To promote its disputed claims in the South China Sea, China is increasingly relying on irregular forces such as these, which together form what China calls its maritime militia. In recent years, maritime militia units have played important roles in a number of encounters and skirmishes in international waters: in 2012, for example, they participated in China’s seizure of the Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines, and in 2014, they helped China repel Vietnamese ships from an oil rig that China had stationed near the contested Paracel Islands.

The militia represents a useful tool in China’s plan to bloodlessly press its maritime claims, since its frequently civilian appearance allows Beijing to deny its involvement in encounters such as last October’s and exploit the U.S. Navy’s rules of engagement…. … …


Conor M. Kennedy and Andrew S. Erickson, “From Frontier to Frontline: Tanmen Maritime Militia’s Leading Role—Part 2,” Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), 17 May 2016.

Tanmen Militia’s Leading Role in the 2014 Haiyang Shiyou (HYSY)-981 Oil Rig Standoff, Spratly Features Construction, and Beyond

Our series on the leading maritime militias of Hainan Province continues with this second installment in a two-part in-depth examination of the maritime militia of Tanmen Township. Since its founding in 1985, this force has transformed from an entrepreneurial fishing collective on China’s marine frontier to a reliable frontline unit in increasingly vigorous sovereignty promotion. In part one we discussed the role Tanmen’s maritime militia played in the 2012 Scarborough Shoal Incident that resulted in a Chinese takeover of the feature from the Philippines. After the Communist Party of China (CPC) officially declared the new national goal of becoming a maritime power at the 18thNational Congress, newly appointed Chinese President Xi Jinping marked the Tanmen Militia unit as the model for emulation in maritime militia building. A subsequent deluge of delegation visits further reinforced the significance of this unit. Part two will focus on other major events involving the Tanmen Maritime Militia, particularly its participation in the 1995 Mischief Reef Incident and China’s sea-based defense of the HYSY-981 oil rig off the southern Paracel islands in 2014 (which also involved the Sanya militia, as the first article in this series discussed) and China’s multi-decade augmentation of its Spratlys outposts. This article will also probe the Tanmen militia’s organization and leadership, the challenges and opportunities associated with its management and motivation, and will raise the possibility that the Tanmen militiamen’s mission at Scarborough Shoal may not yet be finished.

After Xi Jinping’s visit in 2013, Tanmen Township quickly became ground zero in China’s discussion about the future direction of militia work. The township was host to the 2014 National Border and Coastal Defense Work Conference. Additionally, Tanmen People’s Armed Forces Department (PAFD) Head and Maritime Militia Company Commander Zhang Jiantang attended the Fifth National Conference on Border and Coastal Defense Construction Work in Beijing in June 2014. There he received awards on behalf of his company for its bravery in defending China’s maritime sovereignty. One month prior, he and his men were involved in one of the most volatile showdowns between Vietnam and China since their border war in 1979, the Haiyang Shiyou (HYSY)-981 Oil Rig Standoff of 2 May-15 July 2014.

On 6 June 2014, Vietnamese Ministry of National Defense newspaper The People’s Army stated that China was maintaining between 110 and 115 vessels around China National Offshore Oil Corporation’s (CNOOC) HYSY-981 oil rig. This included 35-40 coast guard vessels, 30 transport ships and tugboats, 35-40 “fishing vessels,” and four naval ships. These forces assembled to form what the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs referred to in English as a “cordon” around the oil rig, effectively preventing Vietnamese vessels from approaching the platform. For China’s maritime forces it was an escort mission to protect HYSY-981 during its operations. In early May, the Chinese government issued Maritime Notice 14034 warning foreign vessels not to enter within three nautical miles of the location of the rig at these coordinates (15°29’58.0”N 111°12’06.0”E). However, Vietnamese reports state China expanded its cordon radius and would confront approaching vessels 9.5-10 nautical miles out from the rig. It appears that Vietnam’s fishing vessels could not fish near the platform because of heavy Chinese interference, so they opted to fish outside of the Chinese cordoned area to display presence in their “traditional fishing grounds.” They were not safe, however, as vessels from China’s maritime militia sallied forth to repel the Vietnamese vessels, using non-military forces against non-military forces as a deliberate means of preventing escalation. One report describes Chinese fishing vessel Qiongdongfang 11209 (琼东方11209) ramming and sinking Vietnamese fishing vessel No. 90152 during an encounter 17 nautical miles from the rig, where Vietnamese fishing vessels were surrounded by 40 Chinese fishing vessels. Video footage of Qiongdongfang 11209 running down the smaller Vietnamese vessel can be seen below. Moreover, Vietnam’s smaller wooden-hulled fishing vessels were outclassed by China’s larger tonnage steel-hulled fishing vessels. … … …


Conor M. Kennedy and Andrew S. Erickson, “Model Maritime Militia: Tanmen’s Leading Role in the April 2012 Scarborough Shoal Incident,” Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), 21 April 2016.

This series on the leading maritime militias of Hainan Province began by examining the “rights protection” efforts of Sanya City’s maritime militia, whose exploits have given them a prominent position among the province’s irregular sea forces. Discussions about the Sanya City maritime militia are still ongoing as we watch their development. Next came our evaluation of the historical legacy of Danzhou’s maritime militia, which directly demonstrated the value of irregular forces in naval warfare during the 1974 Paracels Sea Battle. This third installment in the series is part one of a two-part in-depth look at the maritime militia of Tanmen.

Tanmen Fishing Harbor is a small fishing port on the eastern shore of Hainan Island. It is home to one of China’s best-known maritime militia units, the Tanmen Maritime Militia Company (潭门海上民兵连). This irregular force receives disproportionate media coverage stemming largely from its involvement in numerous incidents with foreign actors at sea, most notably the April 2012 Scarborough Shoal Incident between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Philippines. Since its founding in 1985, Tanmen has received numerous accolades as an “advanced militia unit” from the government and military on all levels. Tanmen’s fame spread further after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s high-profile visit on the first anniversary of the incident. Xi encouraged Tanmen’s maritime militia to build larger vessels, collect information in distant waters, master modern equipment, and support “island and reef” development. The extent of Chinese attention to this fishing village merits a deep-dive analysis to determine what is happening on the ground there, and what kind of maritime militia capabilities are resulting.

Some of Tanmen’s importance to the PRC stems from the wealth of historical artifacts and other evidence China possesses that allegedly support claims that Tanmen fishermen were the earliest community to discover and sustain continuous exploitation of the Paracel and Spratly Islands. Numerous reports of Tanmen fishermen having been detained or attacked by foreign states also support a growing Chinese narrative of the victimization of Chinese fishermen in the South China Sea. This narrative justifies enhanced ‘defensive’ activities by Chinese maritime forces operating there. Contributions from fishing communities such as Tanmen’s to China’s overall posture in the South China Sea bolsters domestic Chinese rationale for regaining lost “blue territory” (蓝色国土) and “maritime rights and interests” (海洋权益). Tanmen Village is likewise the future site of China’s South China Sea Museum and the South China Sea Base for the State Administration of Cultural Heritage’s Undersea Cultural Heritage Protection Center. Both institutions will likely be dedicated to bolstering China’s historical evidence to support its claims of sovereignty over the islands of the South China Sea and resource rights in those waters. The latter also has a stated purpose of “promoting maritime industries, shoreline protection and development, utilization and conservation of marine resources, marine service systems, and the implementation of the overall national marine economic development strategy.”

Central to furthering these interests are irregular units including the Tanmen Maritime Militia Company. Its history exhibit, located in its headquarters, houses artifacts documenting historical presence in the South China Sea by the forefathers of present-day militia members. These include navigation logs, compasses, and diving gear. Tanmen’s maritime militia activities began well before the present company’s official establishment in 1985. Previously a more loosely-organized fishermen militia, it became an official militia company when the PRC promulgated new guidelines for developing fisheries in distant waters and opened up the oceanic fishing industry to privatization. A contingent from this new organization was led initially by its first commander, Huang Xunmian, to the Spratlys, thereby becoming the first organized Tanmen fleet for Spratly development. Huang became a major part of the militia movement to mobilize Tanmen fishermen to build bigger vessels and venture to the Spratlys. By the early 1990s, the company included 150 militiamen and 21 vessels. Today it continues to expand under the current political agenda of transforming China into a “maritime power.”

Chinese media coverage of Tanmen fishermen often states that a large portion of incidents in the South China Sea between Chinese fishermen and foreign states is attributable to the Tanmen fishermen and maritime militia, whose members resolutely oppose “foreign encroachment.” The deputy station chief of the Qionghai City Fisheries Management Station told reporters in 2012 that 90% of the Chinese fishing vessels visiting the Paracels and Spratlys are from Tanmen Harbor, the remainder from Sanya City (also in Hainan Province) or Guangdong Province. While that particular claim is difficult to verify, the number of tense encounters between Tanmen fishermen and militia and the maritime forces of other South China Sea states—particularly the Philippines—certainly helps illustrate the point. Below is a brief, non-exhaustive list of events within the past three decades involving Tanmen fishing vessels, documenting their constant presence and activities in disputed waters and the resulting encounters, and periodic altercations, with other claimant states’ maritime forces. Of note, the incidents listed are as reported in the Chinese press.  Instances of provocations by Tanmen fishermen or Chinese law enforcement vessels are therefore not included. … … …


Andrew S. Erickson and Conor M. Kennedy, “China’s Maritime Militia: An Update,” one of five presentations of 2015-16 top-vote-receiving Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) articles from set selected by the think tank’s leadership at “CIMSEC Forum for Authors and Readers (CFAR) 2016 Forum: Maritime Security, Technology, and Foreign Policy,” CIMSEC, hosted at CNA Corporation, Arlington, VA, 24 March 2016.

Presentation based on award-winning article: Andrew S. Erickson and Conor M. Kennedy, “China’s Daring Vanguard: Introducing Sanya City’s Maritime Militia,” Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), 5 November 2015.


Andrew S. Erickson and Conor M. Kennedy, “China’s Maritime Militia,” CNA Corporation, 7 March 2016.

An important component of China’s local armed forces is the militia—an armed mass organization of mobilizable personnel who retain their normal economic responsibilities in daily civilian life. A reserve force of immense scale, the militia is organized at the grassroots level of society: its units are formed by towns, villages, urban sub-districts, and enterprises. It supports China’s armed forces in a variety of functions, and is seeing expanded mission roles as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) continues to modernize. Militia units may vary widely from one location to another, as the composition of each one is based on local conditions (yindi zhiyi). A good example is the establishment of emergency repair units in areas with a strong shipbuilding industry. While the Maritime Militia is not a new addition to China’s militia system, it is receiving greater emphasis since China now aspires to become a great maritime power and because maritime disputes in China’s near seas are a growing concern.

No official definition of the Maritime Militia exists in the many sources the authors examined. However, in late 2012 the Zhoushan garrison commander, Zeng Pengxiang, and the garrison’s Mobilization Office described it concisely: “The Maritime Militia is an irreplaceable mass armed organization not released from production and a component of China’s sea defense armed forces [that enjoys] low sensitivity and great leeway in maritime rights protection actions.” Of course, this description does not cover all aspects of the Maritime Militia. Members of the Maritime Militia are all primary militia (jigan minbing), as opposed to those in the less active ordinary militia (putong minbing). The former receive more frequent training, and they have more advanced skills for carrying out missions at sea.

Logically, the Maritime Militia is found in port areas with large fishing, shipbuilding, or shipping industries where experienced mariners or craftsmen provide a ready pool of recruits. Citizens can join land-based primary militia organizations when they are between the ages of 18 and 35 (or 45 for those who have special skills). The Maritime Militia also has relaxed policies for age requirements, with even more emphasis on their specialized skills in some localities (e.g., Yancheng City of Jiangsu Province extended the maximum age for its maritime militiamen to 55).

The only estimate of the size of the Maritime Militia obtained during the course of this research was from a source published in 1978, which put the number of personnel at 750,000 on approximately 140,000 craft. In its 2010 Defense White Paper, China stated that it had 8 million primary militia members nationwide. The Maritime Militia is a smaller unique subset since it performs many of its missions at sea. Since an accurate number is not available this chapter takes more of a grassroots approach and attempts to determine the average size of a unit at the local level. It is important to note that the Maritime Militia is distinct from both China’s coastal militia (shore based) and its naval reserve, although some coastal militia units have been transformed into Maritime Militia units.

Although this paper focuses on the current organization and employment of Chinese Maritime Militia organizations, it first puts this force into context by presenting a brief history of the Maritime Militia and a discussion of the changing role of militia in the Chinese armed forces as the PLA continues its transformation into a force that will win high-tech local wars under informatized conditions. Next, it examines the current role of the Maritime Militia in China’s goal of becoming a great maritime power, which will include both old and new mission areas. Because of the Maritime Militia’s localized roots, a section of this paper is devoted to surveying Maritime Militia activities in various provinces along China’s coast. This will give the reader a sense of this force’s scale and diversity. The remaining sections will address specific Maritime Militia modes of training, organization, and command and control, and will offer possible scenarios and implications. … … …


Andrew S. Erickson and Conor M. Kennedy, “Trailblazers in Warfighting: The Maritime Militia of Danzhou,” Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), 1 February 2016.

This is the second article in a five-part series exploring Hainan Province’s maritime militia, an important but little-understood player in the South China Sea and participant in its ongoing disputes. Our first article covered the maritime militia of Sanya City on Hainan Island’s southern coast, China’s closest naval and geo-cultural analogue to Honolulu. Now we direct our focus to Hainan’s northwestern shore, home to Baimajing (白马井, lit. “White Horse Well”) Fishing Port in Danzhou Bay. If Sanya and its Fugang Fisheries Co., Ltd. can be considered a wellspring of recent frontline activities by irregular Chinese forces in the South China Sea, Danzhou and its succession of fisheries companies—the current incarnation being Hainan Provincial Marine Fishing Industry Group (海南省海洋渔业集团)—may be regarded as some of the pioneers of military applications for Chinese maritime militia use in recent decades. Examining Danzhou’s forces in detail thus offers a comprehensive window into the origins, contributions, and ongoing development of China’s maritime militia to help elucidate these irregular actors.

China’s maritime militia forces are responsible for both peacetime and wartime roles. Most recently, their peacetime mission has focused on the protection of China’s maritime rights and interests. Maritime militia charged with the peacetime mission of “rights protection” (维权) could engage in the simple flooding of disputed waters with Chinese vessels, resisting foreign vessels’ attempts to drive them away. During wartime, maritime militia detachments might provide logistic support to active duty forces, or even lay sea mines themselves.

In the decades following the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the maritime militia served important coastal patrol functions, providing regular sea monitoring during their normal operations, and preventing Nationalist agents from infiltrating the mainland. While recent examples of irregular forces such as the Sanya maritime militia performing rights protection actions are available for observers to study, the fortunate absence of any recent maritime conflict leaves their potential use during any actual future combat less clear. Open sources can nevertheless help elucidate this important yet understudied issue. The maritime militia’s current training program for wartime missions is well-documented. Further insights may be gleaned by studying its actions during a previous conflict and in particular during a naval battle, which should serve as useful sources of insight into how the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy (PLAN) may undertake any future potential coordination with the maritime militia. This conflict is the PLA Navy’s employment of the South China Sea Fisheries Company’s maritime militia during the 1974 contest between China and South Vietnam (hereafter, “Vietnam”) over the Paracels.

Although the mission roles of the maritime militia have evolved since 1974, they still retain many wartime functions deemed important by Chinese leaders. Considering that both the Paracel and Spratly archipelagoes are widely dispersed; and that some features are occupied by China’s weaker neighbors, with at least one maintaining a military alliance with Washington; any employment of the maritime militia in a limited Spratly conflagration could potentially resemble the 1974 conflict in important respects. Maritime militia activities could conceivably form a tripwire for confrontation that Chinese leaders might believe could confound American intervention, especially if the costs of intervening promised to damage U.S.-China relations significantly.

Danzhou Bay’s Baimajing Fishing Port holds a unique place in China’s recent history as the PLA’s first landing site during the Hainan Island Campaign (海南岛战役) in 1950. There, on 5 March, the PLA made the first of a series of landings that collectively allowed it to link up with the local guerilla resistance to achieve an overwhelming victory over Nationalist forces by 1 May and to expel surviving enemy soldiers completely from the island. Subsequently, Baimajing became home to the South China Sea Fisheries Company (南海水产公司). Established in Guangzhou, in neighboring Guangdong Province, it became one of the metropolis’s largest fishing companies before moving to Baimajing in 1958. In a sign of the interconnected nature of such enterprises, the South China Sea Fisheries Company still maintained operations in Guangzhou.

Two trawlers employed by the South China Sea Fisheries Company served in a variety of supporting roles for the PLA Navy during the January 1974 Battle of the Paracel Islands (西沙海战). From the outset, the militia’s presence agitated the Vietnamese naval forces, and served to steal the initiative from them. Vietnamese destroyer commanders were preoccupied with determining how to deal with these trawlers without resorting to armed force, affording the PLA Navy time to coordinate its own forces. The militia was tasked with monitoring the Vietnamese flotilla, and rescue and repair of a badly damaged PLA Navy mine sweeper. After the PLA Navy repelled the Vietnamese flotilla, the two trawlers provided transportation for 500 troops—two companies and an amphibious reconnaissance team from the Hainan military district—onto the remaining Vietnamese-occupied features. The Vietnamese hold-outs on the islands were quickly overwhelmed and surrendered. While small in scale, the important supporting role these irregular forces played during a period of PLA Navy weakness helped China secure ground crucial to supporting its current maritime strategy in the South China Sea. … … …


Andrew S. Erickson and Conor M. Kennedy, “China’s Daring Vanguard: Introducing Sanya City’s Maritime Militia,” Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), 5 November 2015.

The following is the first in a five-part series meant to shed light on Hainan Province’s maritime militia. For decades, these irregular forces have been an important element of Chinese maritime force structure and operations. Now, with Beijing increasing its capabilities, presence, and pushback against other nations’ activities, in the South China Sea (SCS), Hainan’s leading maritime militia elements are poised to become even more significant. Yet they remain widely under-appreciated and misunderstood by foreign observers. Read the introduction to the article series here, which offers a general background on China’s maritime militia and explains its growing importance.

Such lack of understanding is increasingly risky for U.S. policy-makers, planners, and military operators. This is particularly the case given recent, long-overdue American expression of determination to continue Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS) in accordance with international law near Chinese-occupied and -augmented features in the Spratlys. As demonstrated by apparent maritime militia operations in proximity to USS Lassen when it sailed near Subi Reef on 27 October 2015, Beijing may well see maritime militia as a tool with which to make FONOPS increasingly uncomfortable for U.S. forces while carefully calibrating its signaling and avoiding undue escalation.

To help rectify this knowledge gap, we begin by introducing and analyzing maritime militia based in strategically-situated Sanya City, one of Hainan’s greatest naval, fishing, and maritime economic hubs. Prominent among Sanya-based maritime militia is the Sanya Fugang Fisheries Co., Ltd. (三亚福港渔业水产实业有限公司), founded in 2001. One of Sanya City’s major marine fisheries companies, Fugang Fisheries is composed primarily of Fujianese fishermen. A leading participant in both fishing expeditions to the Spratlys and harassment of foreign vessels there and elsewhere in the SCS, it has been celebrated for its bravery.

Indeed, among even the vanguard militia units profiled in this series, Fugang Fisheries is itself at the vanguard. That helps to explain why it has been entrusted with supporting so many Chinese operations, and involved in so many related international incidents, in the SCS. Fugang has dispatched its vessels and crews as maritime militia in service of China’s maritime security efforts in the SCS, primarily for “rights protection” (维权), efforts to advance and defend China’s island and maritime claims that are increasingly in tension with Beijing’s parallel objective of “maintaining stable relations” (维稳) with its immediate neighbors and the United States. Focusing on Sanya’s maritime militia, Fugang Fisheries first among them, thus offers disproportionate insights into an important element of Chinese maritime policy and activity with direct implications for U.S. interests, presence, and influence in the SCS. … … …


Andrew S. Erickson and Conor M. Kennedy, “Irregular Forces at Sea: ‘Not Merely Fishermen—Shedding Light on China’s Maritime Militia’,” Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), 2 November 2015.

Maritime militia, dead ahead! In a just-published Defense News article, Chris Cavas has made an important contribution to our understanding of the operations and applications of China’s irregular maritime forces. The forces he describes are almost certainly neither ordinary merchant ship operators nor random fishermen, but rather militiamen operating in pre-planned roles in conjunction with USS Lassen’s Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP) in the South China Sea (SCS) on 27 October 2015.

Cavas cites a U.S. Navy source: “‘There were Chinese merchant vessels present that were not as demure as the Chinese Navy. One came out of its anchorage in the island and crossed the destroyer’s bow but at a safe distance, and the Lassen did not alter course as the merchant ship circled around.’ Fishing vessels in the area added to shipping traffic in the immediate area, the source said, but the ship did not have to maneuver around them. But the extra craft seem to have been present, the source noted, ‘because they anticipated the Lassen’s transit.’”

In what follows, the authors trace maritime militia involvement—in close coordination with other Chinese maritime forces—to a variety of important incidents at sea. It is thus not surprising to see these forces active near such China-occupied Spratly features as Subi Reef. But greater awareness is needed to address this vital but too-long-understudied issue. To that end, we offer the following major points:

  • China’s maritime militia is understudied, but it is important for understanding Beijing’s maritime strategy, especially in the SCS.
  • The militia work with other instruments of Chinese sea power—the military and the coast guard—to defend and advance China’s position in its disputes. They may also support military operations in wartime.
  • They allow China to vigorously pursue objectives without risking military conflict or creating an image of gunboat diplomacy.
  • This article series will profile four of the most important militia units operating in the SCS. … … …


Andrew S. Erickson and Conor M. Kennedy, “Directing China’s ‘Little Blue Men’: Uncovering the Maritime Militia Command Structure,” Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, Center for Strategic and International Studies, 9 September 2015.

While Russia has employed “Little Green Men” surreptitiously in Crimea, China uses its own “Little Blue Men” to support Near Seas claims. As the U.S. military operates near Beijing’s artificially-built South China Sea (SCS) features and seeks to prevent Beijing from ejecting foreign claimants from places like Second Thomas Shoal, it may well face surveillance and harassment from China’s maritime militia. Washington and its allies and partners must therefore understand how these irregular forces are commanded and controlled, before they are surprised and stymied by them.

China has long organized its civilian mariners into maritime militia, largely out of necessity. Recent years have seen a surge of emphasis on maritime militia building and increasing this unique force’s capabilities; however, it is difficult to ascertain who or what entity within China’s government has ordered such emphasis. One can point to Xi Jinping’s visit to the Tanmen Maritime Militia in 2013, after which maritime militia building oriented toward the SCS has seen growth in places like Hainan, Guangdong, and Guangxi. Yet local militia training and organization plans prior to this date had already emphasized the training of maritime militia units.

Unit Composition and Organization

China’s militia has two major subcomponents: an “ordinary” reserve of registered male citizens akin to the U.S. Selective Service pool, and a “primary” force more readily mobilized to respond to various contingencies. The primary force receives dedicated resources, troops demobilized from active duty, and training. Within the primary force, maritime militia units—formed solely at the tactical level of organization—are smaller and more specialized on average than their land-based counterparts. Within the maritime militia, a small but growing elite set of units are the ones most likely to be deployed on more sophisticated operations that involve monitoring, displaying presence in front of, or opposing foreign actors. They do so in part by supporting China’s navy and coast guard in such efforts. Some cities with large mobilization potential—i.e., a large maritime industry or fishing community—will form battalion-sized units. Most localities create company-sized units, however. These companies are divided into platoons and squads, with the smallest grouping based on each individual vessel. … … …


Andrew S. Erickson and Conor M. Kennedy, “Tanmen Militia: China’s ‘Maritime Rights Protection’ Vanguard,” The National Interest, 6 May 2015.

The maritime militias built out of the fishing industry are becoming a major foreign policy tool for the consolidation of China’s claims.

Hainan Province is using the fishing industry as a launching pad for the nation’s consolidation of the South China Sea (SCS). It is one of many measures—such as strengthening maritime law enforcement forces, enhancing administrative measures, augmenting infrastructure through island building, and delivery of 3G cellular coverage—but one with particular potential. China’s fishing industry and the world’s largest fleet that it wields has been an important foreign policy tool in Beijing’s repertoire since much of China’s historic claim on the SCS and current presence therein hinges on fishing activities. The fishing fleet’s political and strategic role has been given special significance and potential by China’s widespread employment of a relatively unknown paramilitary organization: the maritime militia.

Maritime militia building dates to the founding of the People’s Republic, when the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) had only the most basic naval capabilities. KMT blockading of mainland ports and depredations against merchant vessels along the coast forced the PRC to arm and prepare its fishermen militias, not only to protect themselves but to also aid early PLA ground and naval operations. During the tumultuous periods of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, the fishing fleet saw ever more importance as high-end naval capabilities were targeted as tools of “the imperialists.” Desperately needed as providers of food during the long periods of famine, China’s fishing fleets were relatively insulated from political attacks. They saw employment in early PLAN coastal operations to recapture KMT occupied islands, surprise attacks against KMT naval ships, and later in the 1974 Battle of the Paracels.

Despite the leaps and bounds achieved by China’s Navy and Coast Guard forces in recent years, maritime militias still form “an irreplaceable force” within China’s maritime armed forces. There are increasing efforts to organize, standardize and normalize their utilization in support of broader foreign policy goals, inserting additional options into Chinese military and government leaders’ playbooks. They also have a particular set of advantages that allows their employment when professional, more visible maritime forces would create political costs that could trigger anti-China coalition building in neighboring countries.

Heading up the charge to build Hainan’s Maritime Militias is Luo Baoming, the provincial party chief; followed by a number of officials, most notably former Director of the State Oceanic Administration Liu Cigui. At the center of this effort are the newly founded Sansha prefecture-level city, its mayor Xiao Jie, and Maritime Militia Company, established in July 2013. This all comes on the heels of General Secretary Xi Jinping’s historic visit to the small fishing village of Tanmen in Qionghai County during his tour of Hainan Province in April 2013. There he listened to the fishermen’s stories and visited the local Maritime Militia Company’s museum exhibit. Xi’s commendations and instructions to this famous company have sparked a fury of Militia growth in Hainan Province. Subsequently Hainan’s government, party and military jointly promulgated “Opinions on Strengthening Maritime Militia Construction” in 2014 to legislate the guiding spirit Xi articulated on his visit. Such legislation serves to fund and promote local counties to organize and recruit maritime militias, largely for the express purpose of protecting China’s sovereignty and maritime interests in the SCS.

Seen as brave patriotic mariners opposing incursions by foreign navy and coast guard vessels, and aided by the political steamroller that is executing China’s long-term strategy of becoming a great maritime power, these grassroots actors joining paramilitary organizations are creating a grey area difficult for other navies, or even coast guards, to deal with. They constitute a portion of a multipronged effort directed at the SCS, which includes the Paracel Islands, the Zhongsha Islands, and the Spratly Islands, and could be described as forming a united front outwards from China’s “Southern Gate” designed to solidify China’s position in the SCS.

The humble Tanmen Maritime Militia may seem like a small organ in the vast body that constitutes China’s maritime forces, but its ability to pioneer techniques and serve as a model for the thousands of other maritime militias along China’s coast—in coordination with China’s more professional forces—should not be overlooked. China’s government and military leaders, Xi foremost among them, emphasize its value. … … …


Andrew S. Erickson and Conor M. Kennedy, “China’s Island Builders: The People’s War at Sea,” Foreign Affairs, 9 April 2015.

Recent satellite images show that the Spratly islands, a series of features in the South China Sea, are growing at a staggering pace. Tons of sand, rocks, coral cuttings, and concrete are transforming miniscule Chinese-occupied outcroppings into sizeable islands with harbors, large multi-story buildings, airstrips, and other government facilities. The parties behind the construction and defense of these islands remain a thinly veiled secret. As China builds up its presence in the South China Sea, it is also greatly increasing its ability to monitor, bully, and even project force against its neighbors. In Machiavelli’s words, Beijing has decided that it is more important to be feared than loved—and that making progress before a new U.S. president pushes back is crucial to its regional aspirations.


Chinese strategy in the South China Sea may have many components, but it rests on the shoulders of one man: President Xi Jinping. Since assuming office in 2012, Xi has directed the nation’s transformation into a “Great Maritime Power” capable of securing its offshore rights and interests, including its unresolved maritime claims in the Yellow, East China, and South China Seas. … … …


Andrew S. Erickson and Conor M. Kennedy, “Meet the Chinese Maritime Militia Waging a ‘People’s War at Sea’,” China Real Time Report (中国实时报), Wall Street Journal, 31 March 2015.

When the Philippines announced last week that it was restarting construction in disputed areas of the South China Sea in response to China’s own construction binge, it entered a contest it has virtually no hope of winning.

Satellite images released in February reveal that China has undertaken an unprecedented series of construction and land reclamation projects designed to help it control much of the South China Sea, including a 75,000-square yard artificial island with a cement plant and a helipad just over 200 miles from the Philippines.

China’s territorial ambitions in the East and South China seas are by now well-documented. Much less understood is one of the key factors in the country’s ability to realize those ambitions: an increasingly well-funded and capable maritime militia.

Along with Vietnam, China is one of very few countries to have a maritime militia. Such forces are typically comprised of civilian fishing vessels and fill a variety of roles, from using emergency response units to rescue stranded vessels to more assertive operations including conducting island landings to declare sovereignty. Mariners retaining civilian jobs in large companies or fishing collectives are recruited into military organizations and undergo military training, political education, and mobilization in defense of China’s maritime interests.

China’s force, which was formed in the early years of the People’s Republic, is drawn from the world’s largest fishing fleet. In recent years, it has grown in sophistication and importance, performing a range of tasks from supplying building materials to collecting intelligence. The most advanced units are even training to confront foreign ships, if necessary, in a guerrilla-style “People’s War at Sea” with sea mines and anti-air missiles. It now essentially functions as Beijing’s first line of surveillance, support and pressure in promoting the country’s claims and interests in East and South China seas.

Little is known about the militia outside China, but it’s possible to glean valuable insight into the force through publicly available Chinese sources.

Of all the questions surrounding China’s maritime militia, the most complex is who controls them. The maritime militia’s daily building and training is conducted by the numerous People’s Armed Forces Departments established in China’s coastal cities and counties, supervised by their associated Military Sub-District Commands. From there it gets more complicated, since the militias play a variety of roles that puts them under the direct command of various agencies.

Recently, efforts have been taken to transform individual militias by reducing their size and increasing their specialization. Some units provide support for the military and Coast Guard.  One such unit is the long-standing Maritime Militia Battalion of Yuhuan County in Zhejiang Province, which supplies naval ship units with fuel, ammunition, and other supplies.

Other units play supporting roles through reconnaissance, safeguarding of important facilities and areas, deception, jamming of enemy equipment, augmenting sea transport capacity, repair and medical rescue. For example, Taizhou’s maritime militia emergency response company in the past year alone has conducted over 136 search and rescue missions, successfully rescuing 18 vessels and 286 people. A military, coast guard and militia joint-exercise in the Gulf of Tonkin in August 2014 employed fishing vessels in reconnaissance and interception roles to protect a drilling platform.

Maritime militias also help to maintain a Chinese presence in disputed areas or landing on claimed islands, coordinating with the nation’s political and diplomatic efforts. The key push is to achieve the best combination of units’ everyday fishing or work activities with national “struggles” on the sea, while maintaining the ability to respond swiftly to a call of duty from military commanders.

Thousands of militia boats are equipped with China’s Beidou navigation satellite system, which allows them to track other units, transmit short messages, and even features a tablet screen for crews to hand-write Chinese characters. Such systems are instrumental in launching the maritime militia into “informatized” (Information Age) warfighting. According to an article with contributions from multiple military authorities in National Defense, the Chinese Navy Headquarters Military Affairs Department in 2007 even called for the construction of a “maritime reconnaissance network” based on the use of civilian vessels and militias. The same article cited a census report of two anonymous provinces possessing almost 20,000 fishing and commercial vessels as well as “hundreds of thousands” of militia, all available to provide a vast pool of manpower for monitoring of the seas off China.

Daily development costs are assumed by a unit’s home city or county, while costs associated with specific missions and larger projects are subsidized by the provincial government. Owners of the boats and other militia members are compensated for damage or costs incurred in the course of their operations as per vessel mobilization rules written by the provinces.

An array of government departments are involved in building the maritime militia, including the Fishery Law Enforcement Command, Maritime Safety Administration, Defense Transportation Administration and the People’s Armed Forces departments. Each assumes specific portions of this effort, from providing armaments to equipping vessels with proper electronics for communications or navigation.

Militia members are trained in a variety of skills from ship identification to light weapons and military organization. To ensure their loyalty, they are also inundated with political and national defense education, with some undergoing political training administered by temporary Communist Party branches even while at sea.

For all the benefits they provide, maritime militias also present China with challenges. A particular problem is increasing fishing industry privatization, which has caused large fluctuations in vessels and personnel. When catches stagnate, many fishing companies sell off assets or lay off workers to stay above water, forcing military commanders and the People’s Armed Forces Department to scramble to replace and retrain personnel. One such serious occurrence saw a county in Ningbo over the course of a year experience a selloff of 40 fishing vessels from the previous recruited total of 140.

These challenges vary across the range of companies and fishing collectives that constitute much of the maritime militia. As a result, local military commands are now experimenting with different ways of addressing them, including by holding training during times of the season when fishermen are relatively idle.

Regardless of those difficulties, China’s employment of maritime militias has widespread implications for its regional neighbors as well as external powers such as the U.S. Should a conflict erupt in the East or South China seas involving a U.S. ally or the U.S. itself, rules of engagement would be required to deal with numerous overtly-civilian vessels serving military purposes. A low-intensity conflagration in the South China Sea could see China’s weaker neighbors face to face with a guerilla-style melee meant to keep navies out of the fight. Most descriptions by those involved in building the Maritime Militia call for the recruiting of “steel-hulled”  vessels, pushing to replace the numerous wooden hulls that still make up much of the fishing fleet. This focus on hull-quality is likely in consideration of both distant water fishing as well as potential ramming actions as witnessed during the standoff surrounding China’s 981- Drilling Platform  within Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone in 2014.

Navies such as the U.S.’s find themselves with their hands bound due to political sensitivity in confronting civilian actors, especially when those civilian actors are backed up by naval warships. In the meantime, the militias will continue to help build, and guard, China’s ever-expanding facilities in disputed waters.