15 August 2021

The China Maritime Militia Bookshelf: Latest Data, Music Video, Statements, Analysis, Wikipedia & More!

Andrew S. Erickson, “Tracking China’s ‘Little Blue Men’—A Comprehensive Maritime Militia Compendium,” China Analysis from Original Sources 以第一手资料研究中国, 15 August 2021.

As Coronavirus rages on, fishy things have been happening across the South and East China Seas, home to virtually all of Chinas unresolved maritime disputes… Since Beijing remains far from being fully forthcoming and transparent, it is to be hoped that governments whose nations’ ships have been involved with these bilateral incidents with PRC vessels—as well as any other knowledgeable parties—will release complete information on exactly what has happened. Meanwhile, however, ample information is already available concerning Chinas Peoples Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM) and the important role it has played in these waters for decades. You need look no further!

Rarely is a topic so little recognized and so little understood, yet so important and so amenable to research using Chinese-language open sources. To increase awareness and understanding of this important subject, here is a convenient compendium of major publications and other documents available on the matter thus far. If you know of others, please kindly bring them to my attention via <http://www.andrewerickson.com/contact/>.

China’s People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM) is a key component of its Armed Forces, each of which contains the world’s largest sea force of its type by number of ships. Graphic by Conor Kennedy, Naval War College China Maritime Studies Institute.

CHINA’S MARITIME MILITIA: DATA & ANALYSIS

Official Music Video: 三沙海上民兵之歌 “The Song of the Sansha Maritime Militia”

Open source intelligence pro tip #1: if you’re trying to lurk in the shadows of deniability—however implausible—don’t record and release an official music video!

Zachary Haver just published a blockbuster expose on the Sansha Maritime Militia. Among many revealing details, he mentioned that this vanguard unit of China’s Armed Forces has its own music video.

Immediately below are the lyrics in Chinese, pinyin, and English. Key lines:

平时维权当先锋

Píngshí wéiquán dāng xiānfēng

In peacetime, be the vanguard of rights protection

急时参战打胜仗

Jí shí cānzhàn dǎ shèngzhàng

In times of emergency, join the battle and win the war

Be sure to watch all 2 minutes and 13 seconds for fascinating vignettes of personnel and operations. You may wish to pause and examine key frame-images such as that showing a militiaman reading the “永乐工作简报” (Yongle [Islands] Work Briefing). At the bottom of this post is a Chinese article with screenshots, associated images, and additional background.

My bottom line: the next time PRC officials appear to deny the existence of their own Maritime Militia, play them this music video! PAFMM karaoke, anyone?

Political Department of the PLA Hainan Province Sansha Garrison,

三沙海上民兵之歌 [The Song of the Sansha Maritime Militia], 12 April 2020.

三沙海上民兵之歌

Sān shā hǎishàng mínbīng zhī gē

The Song of the Sansha Maritime Militia

斗海浪 迎朝阳

Dòu hǎilàng yíng zhāoyáng

Fighting the waves, welcoming the rise of the morning sun

海上民兵英名传扬

Hǎishàng mínbīng yīngmíng chuán yáng

The Maritime Militia spreads its illustrious name

世代耕耘祖宗海

Shìdài gēngyún zǔzōng hǎi

Diligently cultivating the ancestral sea for generations

碧海丹心铸海疆

Bìhǎi dānxīn zhù hǎijiāng

Molding loyalty to the blue sea on the ocean frontier

战风云 为梦想

Zhàn fēngyún wèi mèngxiǎng

Fighting against the winds and clouds to achieve our dreams

海上民兵斗志昂扬

Hǎishàng mínbīng dòuzhì ángyáng

The Maritime Militia’s fighting spirit is soaring

不畏艰险担使命

Bù wèi jiānxiǎn dān shǐmìng

Not fearing hardship, carrying out the mission

建设三沙创辉煌

Jiànshè sān shā chuàng huīhuáng

Building Sansha to create glory

海上民兵海疆卫士

Hǎishàng mínbīng hǎijiāng wèishì

The Maritime Militia is the guardian of the ocean frontier

报效国家忠诚于党

Bàoxiào guójiā zhōngchéng yú dǎng

Serve the Country and be loyal to the Party

海上民兵海疆卫士

Hǎishàng mínbīng hǎijiāng wèishì

The Maritime Militia is the guardian of the ocean frontier

报效国家忠诚于党

Bàoxiào guójiā zhōngchéng yú dǎng

Serve the Country and be loyal to the Party

平时维权当先锋

Píngshí wéiquán dāng xiānfēng

In peacetime, be the vanguard of rights protection

急时参战打胜仗

Jí shí cānzhàn dǎ shèngzhàng

In times of emergency, join the battle and win the war

自豪吧 我们是三沙海上民兵

Zìháo ba wǒmen shì sān shā hǎishàng mínbīng

Be proud, we are the Sansha Maritime Militia

战风云 为梦想

Zhàn fēngyún wèi mèngxiǎng

Fighting against the winds and clouds to achieve our dreams

海上民兵斗志昂扬

Hǎishàng mínbīng dòuzhì ángyáng

The Maritime Militia’s fighting spirit is soaring

不畏艰险担使命

Bù wèi jiānxiǎn dān shǐmìng

Not fearing hardship, carrying out the mission

建设三沙创辉煌

Jiànshè sān shā chuàng huīhuáng

Building Sansha to create glory

海上民兵海疆卫士

Hǎishàng mínbīng hǎijiāng wèishì

The Maritime Militia is the guardian of the ocean frontier

报效国家忠诚于党

Bàoxiào guójiā zhōngchéng yú dǎng

Serve the Country and be loyal to the Party

海上民兵海疆卫士

Hǎishàng mínbīng hǎijiāng wèishì

The Maritime Militia is the guardian of the ocean frontier

报效国家忠诚于党

Bàoxiào guójiā zhōngchéng yú dǎng

Serve the Country and be loyal to the Party

平时维权当先锋

Píngshí wéiquán dāng xiānfēng

In peacetime, be the vanguard of rights protection

急时参战打胜仗

Jí shí cānzhàn dǎ shèngzhàng

In times of emergency, join the battle and win the war

自豪吧 我们是三沙海上民兵

Zìháo ba wǒmen shì sān shā hǎishàng mínbīng

Be proud, we are the Sansha Maritime Militia

前进吧 我们是三沙海上民兵

Qiánjìn ba wǒmen shì sān shā hǎishàng mínbīng

Advance forward, we are the Sansha Maritime Militia

【每周一曲】世代耕耘祖宗海的英雄们,也有豪迈的战歌!

 帧察 帧察点  2020-04-13
收录于话题
#每周一曲
43个

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【上期内容:登船讲话惹众怒,恶人部长把官辞,航母中招破四百,病中舰长复原职?

三沙海上民兵之歌.mp3From 帧察点00:0002:12本期【每周一曲】分享的这首歌,正好与今天的头条切题。

2012年7月24日,人民解放军海南省三沙警备区随三沙市成立大会而正式挂牌成立,2013年7月21日,三沙警备区组建了三沙海上民兵连。为了进一步强化民兵的日常训练与管理使用,2014年12月,三沙市委决定在永兴、七连屿、永乐及南沙分别设立4个基层人民武装部;2015年1月6日,三沙市永兴人民武装部挂牌成立,七连屿人民武装部、永乐群岛人民武装部和南沙人民武装部等3个基层人民武装部同时成立,这首专为三沙海上民兵而写的战歌,就是诞生于这一年的5月。

斗海浪 迎朝阳

海上民兵英名传扬

世代耕耘祖宗海

碧海丹心铸海疆

战风云 为梦想

海上民兵斗志昂扬

不畏艰险担使命

建设三沙创辉煌

海上民兵海疆卫士

报效国家忠诚于党

海上民兵海疆卫士

报效国家忠诚于党

平时维权当先锋

急时参战打胜仗

自豪吧 我们是三沙海上民兵

战风云 为梦想

海上民兵斗志昂扬

不畏艰险担使命

建设三沙创辉煌

海上民兵海疆卫士

报效国家忠诚于党

海上民兵海疆卫士

报效国家忠诚于党

平时维权当先锋

急时参战打胜仗

自豪吧 我们是三沙海上民兵

前进吧 我们是三沙海上民兵

从MV中可见,在三沙民兵配发的枪械中,除了56式冲锋枪——全国很多地区民兵仍在使用这款老枪——之外,部分基干民兵配备的则是带有光学瞄准镜的95式自动步枪,与我军守礁部队相同。另外MV里还展示了一个近年来很少见的画面:民兵在渔船上架设85式12.7mm高射机枪打靶。

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▲除了07作训服之外,三沙民兵也混用其他款式的迷彩服,根据渔民们的描述,“以前遇到外国渔船我们也去赶,他知道你是渔民,赶不跑他们;现在只要看到穿迷彩服的民兵,外国渔船就会立刻掉头逃离

在曾经的国营渔业公司里,海上民兵们的渔船上架设重机枪、无后坐力炮等重火力是司空见惯的事情,三沙民兵的前辈们当年就是驾驶着这样的渔船,在1974年西沙海战中发挥了重要作用。而今共和国海上力量在南海的存在感,和当年早已不可同日而语;近年来当代海上民兵重火力传统的回归与公开亮相,展示的更多是我国在南海维权中越发自信的态度。

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▲从脚架部分来看,三沙民兵的这挺85高机成色不错

实际上,在近期海上民兵的几次实战经历中,枪械起到的主要是威慑作用;凭借着对祖国蓝色疆土的无限忠诚、丰富的海上经验锻炼出的体魄和部队的专业训练,在剽悍勇猛的三沙民兵中,不乏以“野路子VBSS”打法,赤手空拳降服对手的战例。

2015年7月21日,银屿东北方向3海里处发现一艘外籍渔船在进行非法捕捞作业。执法人员和民兵赶到后,这艘渔船仍然无视驱赶,继续作业。根据上级命令,李遴君跳上对方渔船,不顾右臂被鱼叉划伤,徒手擒住对方船长,和其他民兵一起制服了剩余船员。经过这次执法,李遴君“海上鲁智深”的名号不胫而走。“民兵也是兵,也要有兵的胆气和血性。”他说。

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▲已经年过六旬的李遴君,仍然战斗在保卫三沙的第一线

正如李老英雄所说,“民兵也是兵”。除了队列训练、轻武器射击、伤员包扎救护等等这类“军训科目”之外,为了强化民兵在南海作业和执行任务的能力,三沙警备区还组织民兵和渔民开设了船艇驾驶、轮机修理、雷达通信、海洋法律法规等多个海上相关技能培训班,每年培训数百人次。

目前,各民兵哨所普遍配备了指挥系统、AIS系统、雷达系统和光电监视系统,能够对岛礁和海面目标实施全天候监控,并且可以通过视频、电话、对讲机三种方式将情况上报到永兴岛作战值班室。如今从民兵发现渔船到我方强力部门出动执法,反应时间很快,大大提高了维权执法效率。

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▲这组截图反映了海上民兵从侦察上报到登船协助,与海军西沙水警区炮艇部队联合执法,迫使某国渔船用船身撞击我方船头的全过程

这首歌曲用词和结构上并不复杂,利于民兵学唱;而旋律中蕴含着的气势,则又与面朝大海、搏击风浪的渔民们的精神气质契合。如果有机会,我们一定要去三沙看一看,不仅是去欣赏碧海蓝天,更是去看看那些世代耕耘在祖宗海、把英名传扬到祖国大地上的人们,在那里唱响这首战歌!

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▲扎根三沙的一代代人们,用一生践行着“今朝立业南沙,千秋有功国家”

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People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia,” Wikipedia, entry as of 15 August 2021.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jump to navigation Jump to search

The People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM; Chinese: 中国海上民兵) is the government funded maritime militia of China.[1] For reportedly operating in the South China Sea without clear identification, they are sometimes referred to as the “little blue men”, a term coined by Andrew S. Erickson of the Naval War College in reference to Russia’s “little green men” during the 2014 annexation of Crimea.[2]

The armed fishing fleet are part of China’s power projection,[1] and are deployed to seize territory and to target anyone who challenges China’s claims to the entire South China Sea. In 2016, 230 fishing boats swarmed the same islands.[1] In August 2020, more than 100 fishing boats approached the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands.[1]

People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia
中国海上民兵
Country  China
Allegiance Chinese Communist Party
Type Maritime militia
Role Naval patrols, reconnaissance, search and rescue

According to research from the Taiwanese Institute for National Defense and Security Research, China’s maritime militia is part of their “grey zone” tactics which are used to wage conflict against China’s neighbors without crossing the threshold into conventional war.[3] The maritime militia is a particularly useful gray zone force because Chinese authorities can deny or claim affiliation with its members depending on context. China can send its militia to harass foreign vessels in contested areas, but publicly assert that the vessels are independent from government control, thus avoiding escalation with other states. At the same time, if militia members are hurt during confrontations with foreign vessels, the Chinese government can claim the need to “defend” its own fishermen, mobilizing domestic nationalism to improve its bargaining position in a crisis.[4] According to a Congressional Research Service report, the PAFMM and coast guard are deployed more regularly than the PLAN in maritime sovereignty-assertion operations.[5]

History [edit]

The PAFMM was established after the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) won the Chinese Civil War and forced the KMT to flee the mainland to Taiwan. The newly consolidated communist government needed to augment their maritime defenses against the nationalist forces, which had retreated offshore and remained entrenched on a number of coastal islands. Therefore, the concept of people’s war was applied to the sea with fishermen and other nautical laborers being drafted into a maritime militia. The nationalists had maintained a maritime militia during their time in power, but the communist government preferred to craft theirs anew given their suspicion of organizations created by the nationalists. The CCP also instituted a national level maritime militia command to unite the local militias, something the KMT had never done. In the early 1950s, the Bureau of Aquatic Products played a key role in institutionalizing and strengthening the maritime militia as it collectivized local fisheries. Bureau of Aquatic Products leaders were also generally former high ranking PLAN officers which lead to close relations between the organizations. The formation of the PAFMM was influenced by the Soviet “Young School” of military theory, which emphasized coastal defense over naval power projection for nascent communist powers.[6]

In the 1960s and 1970s, the PLAN established maritime militia schools near the three main fleet headquarters of Qingdao, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.[6] Through the first half of the 1970s, the maritime militia mostly stayed near shore and close to China. However, by the later 1970s, the maritime militia had evolved an important sovereignty support function which brought it into increasing conflict with China’s neighbors, especially in the South China Sea. The PAFMM contributed significantly to the Battle of the Paracel Islands, especially in proving amphibious lift capacity to Chinese forces. These early PAFMM successes have led to their use in nearly every maritime operation undertaken by the China Coast Guard and Navy, often harassing vessels from neighboring states.[6]

The maritime militia is believed to be behind a number of incidents in the South China Sea where high powered lasers were pointed at the cockpits of aircraft. This includes an attack against a Royal Australian Navy helicopter.[7]

In 2019, the United States issued a warning to China over aggressive and unsafe action by their Coast Guard and maritime militia.[8]

Equipment [edit]

Most vessels are issued with navigation and communication equipment while some are also issued small arms.[9] Some PLAFMM units are equipped with naval mine and anti-aircraft weapons.[10] The communications systems can be used both for communication and espionage. Often fishermen supply their own vessels, however, there are also core contingents of the maritime militia who operate vessels fitted out for militia work instead of fishing; these vessels feature reinforced bows for ramming and high powered water cannons.[11] The increasing sophistication of militia vessels’ communication equipment is a double-edged sword for Chinese authorities. New equipment, as well as training in its use, has substantially improved command, control, and coordination of militia units. However, the vessels’ resulting professionalism and sophisticated maneuvers make them more identifiable as government-sponsored actors, dampening their ability to function as a gray-zone force. Such improvements also potentially make militia vessels more threatening during at-sea confrontations, raising the risk of unintended escalations with foreign militaries.[4] The PAFMM has utilized rented fishing vessels and purpose-built ships in its operations.[5]

See also [edit]

External links [edit]

References [edit]

  1. Jump up to: ab c d Thomas, Jason (2 September 2020). “China’s ‘fishermen’ mercenaries”. The Weekend Australian. Archived from the original on 15 May 2021. Retrieved 5 September2020.
  2. ^Jakhar, Pratik (15 April 2019). “Analysis: What’s so fishy about China’s ‘maritime militia’?”. monitoring.bbc.co.uk. BBC Monitoring. Archived from the original on 15 May 2021. Retrieved 25 July 2020.
  3. ^“DIPLOMACY: Maritime militia warning issued”. Taipei Times. 16 June 2020. Archived from the original on 17 June 2020. Retrieved 8 July 2020.
  4. Jump up to: ab Luo, Shuxian; Panter, Jonathan (January–February 2021). “China’s Maritime Militia and Fishing Fleets: A Primer for Operational Staffs and Tactical Leaders”. Military Review. 101 (1): 6–21. Archived from the original on 27 January 2021. Retrieved 19 January 2021.
  5. Jump up to: ab “Ronald O’Rourke, S.-China Strategic Competition in South and East China Seas: Implications for U.S. Interests—Background and Issues for Congress, R42784. Congressional Research Service. pp. 13, 76”Archived from the original on 2021-01-26. Retrieved 2021-02-14.
  6. Jump up to: ab c Grossman, Derek; Ma, Logan (6 April 2020). “A Short History of China’s Fishing Militia and What It May Tell Us”. rand.org. RAND Corporation. Archived from the original on 8 July 2020. Retrieved 9 July 2020.
  7. ^Yeo, Mike (31 May 2019). “Testing the waters: China’s maritime militia challenges foreign forces at sea”. Defense News. Retrieved 9 July 2020.[dead link]
  8. ^Sevastopulo, Demetri; Hille, Kathrin (28 April 2019). “US warns China on aggressive acts by fishing boats and coast guard”. Financial Times. Archived from the original on 8 July 2020. Retrieved 9 July 2020.
  9. ^Owens, Tess (1 May 2016). “China Is Reportedly Training a ‘Maritime Militia’ to Patrol the Disputed South China Sea”. vice.com. Vice News. Archived from the original on 9 July 2020. Retrieved 9 July 2020.
  10. ^Chan, Eric. “Escalating Clarity without Fighting: Countering Gray Zone Warfare against Taiwan (Part 2)”. globaltaiwan.org. The Global Taiwan Institute. Retrieved 21 June 2021.
  11. ^Manthorpe, Jonathan (28 April 2019). “Beijing’s maritime militia, the scourge of South China Sea”. Asia Times. Archivedfrom the original on 15 May 2021. Retrieved 9 July2020.

***

中国人民軍海上民兵

出典: フリー百科事典『ウィキペディア(Wikipedia)』

ナビゲーションに移動検索に移動

中国人民軍海上民兵(ちゅうごくじんみんぐんかいじょうみんぺい)は、中国の政府出資の海上民兵である[1]南シナ海で活動していると報じられていることから、2014年のクリミア併合時のロシアの「リトル・グリーン・メン」に言及した海軍兵学校のアンドリュー・S・エリクソンの造語である「リトル・ブルー・メン」と呼ばれることもある[2]

武装した漁船団は中国のパワープロジェクション[1]の一環であり、領土を掌握し、南シナ海全体の中国の主張に異議を唱える者を標的にするために配備されている。2016年には230隻の漁船が同じ島に群がった[1]。2020年8月には、日本が管理する尖閣諸島に100隻以上の漁船が嫌がらせを行った[1]

参考文献 [編集]

  1. ^ a b c d Thomas, Jason (2020年9月2日). “China’s ‘fishermen’ mercenaries”. The Weekend Australian
  2. ^ Jakhar, Pratik (2019年4月15日). “Analysis: What’s so fishy about China’s ‘maritime militia’?”. monitoring.bbc.co.uk. BBC Monitoring. 2020年7月25日閲覧。

***

中国海上民兵 [编辑]

维基百科,自由的百科全书

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中國海上民兵,或人民武装力量海上民兵中华人民共和国政府资助的海上民兵[1],以武裝漁船方式為外界所認識。2016年,230艘渔船在同一岛屿上蜂拥而至[1]。2020年8月,100多艘渔船进入中日争议领土钓鱼岛附近海域[1]

观点[编辑]

武装渔船队是中国力量投射的一部分[1],部署渔船是为了控制有争议海上领土、海岛(包括南海钓鱼台列屿等)。由于在南海活动时没有明确的身份标识,他们有时被[谁?]称为 「小蓝人」[注释 1][2]

注释[编辑]

  1. ^这个词是海军战争学院的安德鲁S·埃里克森创造的,指的是俄罗斯在2014年吞并克里米亚期间的「小绿人」。

參考文獻[编辑]

  1. 跳转至:0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Thomas, Jason. China’s ‘fishermen’ mercenaries. The Weekend Australian. 2020-09-02.
  2. ^Jakhar, Pratik. Analysis: What’s so fishy about China’s ‘maritime militia’?. monitoring.bbc.co.uk. BBC Monitoring. 15 April 2019 [25 July 2020].

分类

编辑链接

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If you have trouble accessing the website above, please download a cached copy here.

You can also click here to access the report via the public CRS website.

KEY EXCERPTS:

p. 9

p. 9

“Salami-Slicing” Strategy and Gray Zone Operations

Observers frequently characterize China’s approach to the SCS and ECS as a “salami-slicing” strategy that employs a series of incremental actions, none of which by itself is a casus belli, to gradually change the status quo in China’s favor. Other observers have referred to China’s approach as a strategy of gray zone operations (i.e., operations that reside in a gray zone between peace and war), of incrementalism,30 creeping annexation31 or creeping invasion,32 or as a “talk and take” strategy, meaning a strategy in which China engages in (or draws out) negotiations while taking actions to gain control of contested areas.33 AMarch 17, 2020, press report in China’s state-controlled media stated that “Chinese military experts on Tuesday [March 17]

***

30 See, for example, Patrick Mendis and Joey Wang, “China’s Art of Strategic Incrementalism in the South China Sea,” National Interest, August 8, 2020.

31 See, for example, Alan Dupont,“China’s Maritime Power Trip,” The Australian, May 24, 2014.

32 Jackson Diehl, “China’s ‘CreepingInvasion,” Washington Post, September 14, 2014.

33 The strategy has been called “talk and take” or “take and talk.” See, for example, Anders Corr, “China’s Take-And-Talk Strategy In The South China Sea,” Forbes, March 29, 2017. See also Namrata Goswami, “Can China Be Taken Seriously on its ‘Word’ to Negotiate Disputed Territory?”The Diplomat, August 18, 2017.

p. 10

suggested the use of non-lethal electromagnetic weapons, including low-energy laser devices, in expelling US warships that have been repeatedly intruding into the South China Sea in the past week.”34

A July 15, 2020, press report states

Its navy drills grab most of the attention, but China has also been quietly mounting a range of civilian and scientific operations to consolidate its claims in the South China Sea.

The diversified approach includes setting up a maritime rescue centre in Sansha, a prefecture-level city on Woody Island, which China calls Yongxing. It also involves undisclosed research and oil infrastructure.

Observers said the multipronged approach is meant to bolster China’s presence and consolidate its actual control over the waterway as other counties [sic:countries] repeatedly question its claims to the waters.35

Some observers argue that China is using the period of the COVID-19 pandemic to further implement its salami-slicing strategy in the SCS while the world’s attention is focused on addressing the pandemic.36 In a video conference with ASEAN foreign ministers in April 2020, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly stated “It is important to highlight how the Chinese Communist party is exploiting the world’s focus on the Covid-19 crisis by continuing its provocative behaviour. The CCP [Chinese Communist Party] is … coercing its neighbours in the South China Sea.”37

***

34 Liu Xuanzun, “US Intrusions in S. China Sea Can Be Stopped by Electromagnetic Weapons: Experts,” Global Times, March 17, 2020.

35 Kristin Huang,“The Under-the-Radar South China Sea Projects Beijing Uses to CementIts Claims,” South China Morning Post, July 15, 2020. See also Nguyen Thuy Anh, “Science Journals: A New Frontline in the South China Sea Disputes,” Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI)(Center for Strategic and International Studies [CSIS]), July 15, 2020; Oriana Skylar Mastro, “How China Is Bending the Rules in the South China Sea,” Interpreter,February 17, 2021.

36 See, for example, T sukasa Hadano and Alex Fang, “China Steps Up Maritime Activity with Eye on Post-pandemic Order,” Nikkei Asian Review, May 13, 2020; Harsh Pant, “ China’s Salami Slicing overdrive: It’s Flexing Military Muscles at a Time When Covid Preoccupies the Rest of the World,”Times of India, May13, 2020; Veeramalla Anjaiah,“How To Tame Aggressive China In South China Sea Amid COVID-19 Crisis—OpEd,” Eurasia Review, May 14, 2020; Robert A. Manning and Patrick M. Cronin, “Under Cover of Pandemic, China Steps Up Brinkmanship in South China Sea,” Foreign Policy, May 14, 2020. Another observer, offering a somewhat different perspective, states

Recent developments in the South China Sea might lead one to assume that Beijing is taking advantage of the coronavirus crisis to further its ambitions in the disputed waterway. But it’s important to note that China has been following a long-term game plan in the sea for decades. While it’s possible that certain moves were made slightly earlier than planned because of the pandemic, they likely would have been made in any case, sooner or later.

(Steve Mollman,“China’s South China Sea Plan Unfolds Regardless of the Coronavirus,” Quartz, May 9, 2020.)

A May 3, 2020, press report stated

Analysts reject the idea that Beijing has embarked on a new South China Sea campaign during the pandemic. But they do believe the outbreak is having an effect on perceptions of Chinese policy.

“China is doing what it is always doing in the South China Sea, but it is a lot further along the road towards control than it was a few years ago,” said Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at CSIS, the Washington-based think-tank.

(Kathrin Hille and John Reed, “US Looks to Exploit Anger over Beijing’s South China Sea Ambitions,” Financial Times, May 3, 2020.)

37 As quoted in Kathrin Hille and John Reed, “US Looks to Exploit Anger over Beijing’s South China Sea Ambitions,” Financial Times, May 3, 2020. (Ellipsis as in original.)

p. 13

USE OF COAST GUARD SHIPS AND MARITIME MILITIA ………………………………………………………………………………………. 13

Use of Coast Guard Ships and Maritime Militia

Use of Coast Guard Ships and Maritime Militia

China asserts and defends its maritime claims not only with its navy, but also with its coast guard and its maritime militia. Indeed, China employs its coast guard and maritime militia more regularly and extensively than its navy in its maritime sovereignty-assertion operations. DOD states that China’s navy, coast guard, and maritime militia together “form the largest maritime force in the Indo-Pacific.”41

Apparent Narrow Definition of “Freedom of Navigation”

China regularly states that it supports freedom of navigation and has not interfered with freedom of navigation. China, however, appears to hold a narrow definition of freedom of navigation that is centered on the ability of commercial cargo ships to pass through international waters. In contrast to the broader U.S./Western definition of freedom of navigation (aka freedom of the seas), the Chinese definition does not appear to include operations conducted by military ships and aircraft. It can also be noted that China has frequently interfered with commercial fishing operations by non-Chinese fishing vessels—something that some observers regard as a form of interfering with freedom of navigation for commercial ships.

***

41 Department of Defense, Annual Report to Congress [on] Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2018, p. 16. See also Andrew S. Erickson, “Maritime Numbers Game, Understanding and Responding to China’s Three Sea Forces,” Indo-Pacific Defense Forum, January 28, 2019.

p. 19

In an April 22, 2020, statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated

Even as we fight the [COVID-19] outbreak, we must remember that the long-termthreats to our shared security have not disappeared. In fact, they’ve become more prominent. Beijing has moved to take advantage of the distraction, from China’s new unilateral announcement of administrative districts over disputed islands and maritime areas in the South China Sea, its sinking of a Vietnamese fishing vessel earlier this month, and its “research stations” on Fiery Cross Reef and Subi Reef. The PRC continues to deploy maritime militia around the Spratly Islands and most recently, the PRC has dispatched a flotilla that included an energy survey vessel for the sole purpose of intimidating other claimants from engaging in offshore hydrocarbon development. It is important to highlight how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is exploiting the world’s focus on the COVID-19 crisis by continuing its provocative behavior. The CCP is exerting military pressure and coercing its neighbors in the SCS, even going so far as to sink a Vietnamese fishing vessel. The U.S. strongly opposes China’s bullying and we hope other nations will hold them to account too.53

***

53 Department of State, “The United States and ASEAN are Partnering to Defeat COVID-19, Build Long-Term Resilience, and Support Economic Recovery,” Press Statement, Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State, April 22, 2020. See also A. Ananthalakshmi and Rozanna Latiff, “U.S. Says China Should Stop ‘Bullying Behaviour’ in South China Sea,” Reuters, April 18, 2020; Gordon Lubold and Dion Nissenbaum, “With Trump Facing Virus Crisis, U.S. Warns Rivals Not to Seek Advantage,” Wall Street Journal, April 20, 2020; Brad Lendon, “Coronavirus may be giving Beijing an opening in the South China Sea,” CNN, April 7, 2020; Agence France-Presse, “US Warns China Not to ‘Exploit’ Virus for Sea Disputes,” Channel News Asia, April 6, 2020.

p. 30

Specific Actions

Specific actions taken by the Trump Administration included the following, among others: … …

p. 31

  • In January 2019, the then-U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral John Richardson, reportedly warned his Chinese counterpart that the U.S. Navy would treat China’s coast guard cutters and maritime militia vessels as combatants and respond to provocations by them in the same way as it would respond to provocations by Chinese navy ships.82
  • On March 1, 2019, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo stated, “As the South China Sea is part of the Pacific, any armed attack on Philippine forces, aircraft, or public vessels in the South China Sea will trigger mutual defense obligations under Article 4 of our Mutual Defense Treaty [with the Philippines].”83 (For more on this treaty, see Appendix B.)

***

82 See Demetri Sevastopulo and Kathrin Hille, “US Warns China on Aggressive Acts by Fishing Boats and Coast Guard; Navy Chief Says Washington Will Use Military Rules of Engagement to Curb Provocative Behavior,” Financial Times, April 28, 2019. See also Shirley Tay, “US Reportedly Warns China Over Hostile Non-Naval Vessels in South China Sea,” CNBC, April 29, 2019; Ryan Pickrell, “China’s South China Sea Strategy Takes a Hit as the US Navy Threatens to Get Tough on Beijing’s Sea Forces,” Business Insider, April 29, 2019; Tyler Durden, “‘Warning Shot Across The Bow:’ US Warns China On Aggressive Acts By Maritime Militia,” Zero Hedge, April 29, 2019; Ankit Panda, “The US Navy’s Shifting View of China’s Coast Guard and ‘Maritime Militia,’” Diplomat, April 30, 2019; Ryan Pickrell, “It Looks Like the US Has Been Quietly Lowering the Threshold for Conflict in the South China Sea,” Business Insider, June 19, 2019.

83 State Department, Remarks With Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr., Remarks [by] Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State, March 1, 2019, accessed August 21, 2019 at https://www.state.gov/remarks-with- philippine-foreign-secretary-teodoro-locsin-jr/. See also James Kraska,“China’s Maritime Militia Vessels May Be Military Objectives During Armed Conflict,” Diplomat, July 7, 2020.

p. 32

Biden Administration’s Strategy

Statements in 2021

A January 27, 2021, press report stated that … … …

p. 35

March 2021 Report of U.S.-Taiwan Coast Guard Agreement

A March 25, 2021, press report stated that

Taiwan and the United States have signed their first agreement under the Biden administration, establishing a Coast Guard Working Group to coordinate policy, following China’s passing of a law that allows its coast guard to fire on foreign vessels ….

The de facto Taiwanese ambassador to the United States, Hsiao Bi-khim, signed the agreement in Washington onThursday [March25], her office said in a statement.

“It is our hope that with the new Coast Guard Working Group, both sides will forge a stronger partnership and jointly contribute even more to a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”

U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Sung Kim was at the signing ceremony,  the office said.94

***

94 Ben Blanchard “Taiwan, U.S. to Strengthen Maritime. Coordination After China Law,” Reuters, March 25, 2021.

p. 60

1972 Convention on Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGs)

China and the United States, as well as more than 150 other countries (including all those bordering on the South East and South China Seas, but not Taiwan),150 are parties to an October 1972 multilateral convention on international regulations for preventing collisions at sea, commonly known as the collision regulations (COLREGs) or the “rules of the road.”151 Although

[CONTINUED… ]

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147 28UST 3459;TIAS8587. The treaty was done at London October 20, 1972, and entered into force July 15, 1977. The United States is an original signatory to the convention and acceded the convention entered into force for the United States on July 15, 1977. China acceded to the treaty on January 7, 1980. A summary of the agreement is

[CONTINUED… ]

p. 61

commonly referred to as a set of rules or regulations, this multilateral convention is a binding treaty. The convention applies “to all vessels upon the high seas and in all waters connected therewith navigable by seagoing vessels.”152 It thus applies to military vessels, paramilitary and law enforcement (i.e., coast guard) vessels, maritime militia vessels, and fishing boats, among other vessels.

***

[CONTINUED… ] available at http://www.imo.org/About/Conventions/ListOfConventions/Pages/COLREG.aspx. The text of the convention is available at https://treaties.un.org/doc/Publication/UNTS/Volume%201050/volume-1050-I-15824-English.pdf.

152 Rule 1(a) of the convention.

p. 85

Use of Coast Guard Ships and Maritime Militia

Coast Guard Ships

Overview

DOD states that the China Coast Guard (CCG) is the world’s largest coast guard.197 It is much larger than the coast guard of any other country in the region,198 and it has increased substantially in size in recent years through the addition of many newly built ships. China makes regular use of CCG ships to assert and defend its maritime claims, particularly in the ECS, with Chinese navy ships sometimes available over the horizon as backup forces.199 The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) states the following:

Under Chinese law, maritime sovereignty is a domestic law enforcement issue under the purview of the CCG. Beijing also prefers to use CCG ships for assertive actions in disputed waters to reduce the risk of escalation and to portray itself more benignly to an international audience. For situations that Beijing perceives carry a heightened risk of escalation, it often deploys PLAN combatants in close proximity for rapid intervention if necessary. China also relies on the PAFMM—a paramilitary force of fishing boats—for sovereignty enforcement actions….

China primarily uses civilian maritime law enforcement agencies in maritime disputes, employing the PLAN [i.e., China’s navy] in a protective capacity in case of escalation.

***

197 Department of Defense, Annual Report to Congress [on] Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2018, p. 71.

198 For a comparison of the CCG to other coast guards in the region in terms of cumulative fleet tonnage in 2010 and 2016, see the graphic entitled “Total Coast Guard Tonnage of Selected Countries” in China Power Team, “Are Maritime Law Enforcement Forces Destabilizing Asia?” China Power (Center for Strategic and International Studies [CSIS]), updated August 26, 2020, accessed February 18, 2021, at https://chinapower.csis.org/maritime-forces-destabilizing-asia/.

199 See Department of Defense, Annual Report to Congress [on] Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2015, pp. 3, 7, and 44, and Department of Defense, Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy, undated but released August 2015, p.14. An April 8, 2021, press report states

Chinese stealthy catamaran fast-attack missile craft [belonging to China’s navy] have reportedly been involved in an incident with a boat chartered by a Philippine media company in the hotly contested waters of the South China Sea. According to an account citing ABS-CBN reporter Chiara Zambrano, the Type 022 Houbei class vessels appeared today in the Second Thomas Shoal, a submerged reef located in the disputed Spratly Islands. The missile craft then apparently aggressively chased away the boat operated on behalf of the ABS-CBN news crew, which had been sailing in the area to monitor the movements of other Chinese vessels.

(Thomas Newdick, “Now China Has Cruise Missile Carrying Catamarans Chasing Away Ships In The South China Sea, The Appearance of the Chinese Catamaran Fast-Attack Missile Craft Adds a Significant New Player to These Disputed Waters,” The Drive, April 8, 2021.)

p. 86

The CCG has rapidly increased and modernized its forces, improving China’s ability to enforce its maritime claims. Since 2010, the CCG’s large patrol ship fleet (more than 1,000 tons) has more than doubled in size from about 60 to more than 130 ships, making it by far the largest coast guard force in the world and increasing its capacity to conduct extended offshore operations in a number of disputed areas simultaneously. Furthermore, the newer ships are substantially larger and more capable than the older ships, and the majority are equipped with helicopter facilities, high-capacity water cannons, and guns ranging from 30-mm to 76-mm. Among these ships, a number are capable of long-distance, long- endurance out-of-area operations. In addition, the CCG operates more than 70 fast patrol combatants ([each displacing] more than 500tons), which can be used for limited offshore operations, and more than 400 coastal patrol craft (as well as about 1,000 inshore and riverine patrol boats). By the end of the decade, the CCG is expected to add up to 30 patrol ships and patrol combatants before the construction program levels off.200

In March 2018, China announced that control of the CCG would be transferred from the civilian State Oceanic Administration to the Central Military Commission.201 The transfer occurred on July 1, 2018.202 On May 22, 2018, it was reported that China’s navy and the CCG had conducted their first joint patrols in disputed waters off the Paracel Islands in the SCS, and had expelled at least 10 foreign fishing vessels from those waters.203

Law Passed by China on January 22, 2021

A January 22, 2021, press report stated

China passed a law on Friday [January 22] that for the first time explicitly allows its coast guard to fire on foreign vessels, a move that could make the contested waters around China more choppy….

China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress standing committee, passed the Coast Guard Law on Friday, according to state media reports.

According to draft wording in the bill published earlier, the coast guard is allowed to use “all necessary means” to stop or prevent threats from foreign vessels.

The bill specifies the circumstances under which different kind of weapons – hand-held, shipborne or airborne – can be used.

***

200 Defense Intelligence Agency, China Military Power, Modernizing a Force to Fight and Win, 2019, pp. 66, 78. A similar passage appears in Department of Defense, Annual Report to Congress [on] Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2018, pp. 71-72.

201 See, for example, David Tweed, “China’s Military Handed Control of the Country’s Coast Guard,” Bloomberg, March 26, 2018.

202 See, for example, Global Times, “China’s Military to Lead Coast Guard to Better Defend Sovereignty,” People’s Daily Online, June 25, 2018. See also Economist, “A New Law Would Unshackle China’s Coastguard, Far from Its Coast,” Economist, December 5, 2020; Katsuya Yamamoto, “The China Coast Guard as a Part of the China Communist Party’s Armed Forces,” Sasakawa Peace Foundation, December 10, 2020.

203 Catherine Wong, “China’s Navy and Coastguard Stage First Joint Patrols Near Disputed South China Sea Islands as ‘Warning to Vietnam,’” South China Morning Post, May 22, 2018. For additional discussion of China’s coast guard, see Andrew S. Erickson, Joshua Hickey, and Henry Holst, “Surging Second Sea Force: China’s Maritime Law-Enforcement Forces, Capabilities, and Future in the Gray Zone and Beyond,” Naval War College Review, Spring 2019; Teddy Ng and Laura Zhou, “China Coast Guard Heads to Front Line to Enforce Beijing’s South China Sea Claims,” South China Morning Post, February 9, 2019; Ying Yu Lin,“Changes in China’s Coast Guard,” Diplomat, January 30, 2019. See also Ryan D. Martinson, “Early Warning Brief: Introducing the ‘New, New’ China Coast Guard,” China Brief, January 25, 2021.

p. 87

The bill allows coast guard personnel to demolish other countries’ structures built on Chinese-claimed reefs and to board and inspect foreign vessels in waters claimed by China.

The bill also empowers the coast guard to create temporary exclusion zones “as needed” to stop other vessels and personnel from entering.

Responding to concerns, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Friday that the law is in line with international practices.204

On February 19, 2021, the State Department stated that

the United States joins the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan, and other countries in expressing concern with China’s recently enacted Coast Guard law, which may escalate ongoing territorial and maritime disputes.

We are specifically concerned by language in the law that expressly ties the potential use of force, including armed force by the China Coast Guard, to the enforcement of China’s claims in ongoing territorial and maritime disputes in the East and SouthChina Seas.

Language in that law, including text allowing the coast guard to destroy other countries’ economic structures and to use force in defending China’s maritime claims in disputed areas, strongly implies this law could be used to intimidate the PRC’s maritime neighbors.

W e remind the PRC and all whose force operates – whose forces operate in the South China Sea that responsible maritime forces act with professionalismand restraint in the exercise of their authorities.

We are further concerned that China may invoke this new law to assert its unlawful maritime claims in the South China Sea, which were thoroughly repudiated by the 2016 Arbitral Tribal[1] ruling. In this regard, the United States reaffirms its statement of July 13th, 2020 regarding maritime claims in the South China Sea.

The United States reminds China of its obligations under the United Nations Charter to refrain from the threat or use of force, and to conform its maritime claims to the

***

204 Yew Lun Tian, “China Authorises Coast Guard to Fire on Foreign Vessels if Needed,” Reuters, January 22, 2021. See also Wataru Okada, “China’s Coast Guard Law Challenges Rule-Based Order,” Diplomat, May 28, 2021; Nguyen Thanh Trung,“How China’s Coast Guard Law Has Changed the Regional Security Structure,” Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI)(Center for Strategic and International Studies [CSIS]), April 12,2021; Kawashima Shin,“China’s Worrying New Coast Guard Law, Japan Is Watching the Senkaku Islands Closely,” Diplomat, March 17, 2021; Editorial Board, “China’s New Coast Guard Law Appears Designed to Intimidate,” Japan Times, March 4, 2021; Ryan D. Martinson, “The Real Risks of China’s New Coast Guard Law, The Use-of-Force Provisions Are Just the Beginning,” National Interest, March 3, 2021; Sumathy Permal, “Beijing Bolsters the Role of the China Coast Guard,”Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI)(Center for Strategic and International Studies [CSIS]), March 1, 2021; Katsuya Yamamoto, “Concerns about the China Coast Guard Law—theCCG and the People’s Armed Police,” Sasakawa Peace Foundation, February 25, 2021; Asahi Shimbun, “New Chinese Law Raises Pressure on Japan around Senkaku Islands,” Asahi Shimbun, February 24, 2021; Ryan D. Martinson, “Gauging the Real Risks of China’s New Coastguard Law,” Strategist, February 23, 2021; Eli Huang, “New Law Expands Chinese Coastguard’s Jurisdiction to at Least the First Island Chain,” Strategist, February 16, 2021; Shigeki Sakamoto, “China’s New Coast Guard Law and Implications for Maritime Security in the East and South China Seas,” Lawfare, February 16, 2021; Expert Voices, “Voices: The Chinese Maritime Police Law,” Maritime Awareness Project, February 11, 2021 (includes portions with subsequent dates); Seth Robson,“China Gets More Aggressive with Its Sea Territory Claims as World Battles Coronavirus,” Stars and Stripes, February 1, 2021; Shuxian Luo,“China’s Coast Guard Law: Destabilizing or Reassuring?” Diplomat, January 29, 2021; Shigeki Sakamoto, “China’s New Coast Guard Law and Implications for Maritime Security in the East and South China Seas,” Lawfare, February 16, 2021; Michael Shoebridge, “Xi Licenses Chinese Coastguard to be ‘Wolf Warriors’ at Sea,” Strategist, February 15, 2021; “New Law Institutionalises Chinese Maritime Coercion,” Oxford Analytica Daily Brief, February 15, 2021.

p. 88

International Law of the Sea, as reflected in the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention. We stand firm in our respective alliance commitments to Japan and the Philippines.205

On March 16, 2021, following a U.S.-Japan “2+2” ministerial meeting that day in Tokyo between Secretary of State Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, and Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, the U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee released a U.S.-Japan joint statement for the press that stated in part that the minister “expressed serious concerns about recent disruptive developments in the region, such as the China Coast Guard law.206

Maritime Militia

China also uses the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM)—a force that essentially consists of fishing ships with armed crew members—to defend its maritime claims. In the view of some observers, the PAFMM—even more than China’s navy or coast guard—is the leading component of China’s maritime forces for asserting its maritime claims, particularly in the SCS. U.S. analysts in recent years have paid increasing attention to the role of the PAFMM as a key tool for implementing China’s salami-slicing strategy, and have urged U.S. policymakers to focus on the capabilities and actions of the PAFMM.207

***

205 U.S. Department of State, “Department Press Briefing—February 19, 2021,” Ned Price, Department Spokesperson, Washington, DC, February 19, 2021. During the question-and-answer portion of the briefing, the following exchange occurred:

QUESTION: I have two quick questions about the Chinese coast guard law. Have you raised concern directly with Beijing? And secondly, has the U.S. seen any examples of concerning behavior since the law was passed in either the South China Sea or the East China Sea?

MR PRICE: For that, I think, Demetri, we would want to—we might want to refer you to DOD for instances of concerning behavior—for concerning behavior there. When it comes to the coast guard law, of course, we have been in close contact with our allies and partners, and we mentioned a few of them in this context: the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan, and other countries that face the type of unacceptable PRC pressure in the South China Sea. I wouldn’t want to characterize any conversations with Beijing on this. Of course, we have emphasized that, especially at the outset of this administration, our—the first and foremost on our agenda is that coordination among our partners and allies, and we have certainly been engaged deeply in that.

See also Demetri Sevastopulo, Kathrin Hille, and Robin Harding,“US Concerned at Chinese Law Allowing Coast Guard Use of Arms,” Financial Times, February 19, 2021; Simon Lewis, Humeyra Pamuk, Daphne Psaledakis, and David Brunnstrom, “U.S. Concerned China’s New Coast Guard Law Could Escalate Maritime Disputes,” Reuters, February 19, 2021.

206 Department of State, “U.S.-Japan Joint Press Statement,”Media Note, Office of the Spokesperson, March 16, 2021. See also Ralph Jennings, “Maritime Law Expected to Give Beijing an Edge in South China Sea Legal Disputes,” Voice of America (VOA), March 15, 2021; Junko Horiuchi, “Japan, U.S. Express ‘Serious Concerns’ over China Coast Guard Law,” Kyodo News, March 16, 2021.

207 For additional discussions of the PAFMM, see, for example, Zachary Haver,“Unmasking China’s Maritime Militia,” Benar News, May 17, 2021; Ryan D. Martinson,“Xi Likes Big Boats (ComingSoon to a Reef Near You),” War on the Rocks, April 28, 2021; Andrew S. Erickson and Ryan D. Martinson, “Records Expose China’s Maritime Militia at Whitsun Reef, Beijing Claims They Are Fishing Vessels. The Data Shows Otherwise,” Foreign Policy, March 29, 2021; Zachary Haver, “China’s Civilian Fishing Fleets Are Still Weapons of Territorial Control,” Center for Advanced China Research, March 26, 2021; Chung Li-hua and Jake Chung, “Chinese Coast Guard an Auxiliary Navy: Researcher,” Taipei Times, June 29, 2020; Gregory Poling, “China’s Hidden Navy,” Foreign Policy, June 25, 2019; Mike Yeo,“Testing the Waters: China’s Maritime Militia Challenges Foreign Forces at Sea,” Defense News, May 31, 2019; Laura Zhou,“Beijing’s Blurred Lines between Military and Non-Military Shipping in South China Sea Could Raise Risk of Flashpoint,” South China Morning Post, May 5, 2019; Andrew S. Erickson, “Fact Sheet: The People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM),” April 29, 2019, Andrewerickson.com; Jonathan Manthorpe, “Beijing’s Maritime Militia, the Scourge of South China Sea,” Asia Times, April 27, 2019; Ryan D. Martinson,“Manila’s Images Are Revealing the Secrets of China’s Maritime Militia, Details of the Ships Haunting Disputed Rocks Show China’s

p. 89

DOD states that “the PAFMM is the only government-sanctioned maritime militia in the world,” and that it “has organizational ties to, and is sometimes directed by, China’s armed forces.”208 DIA states that

The PAFMM is a subset of China’s national militia, an armed reserve force of civilians available for mobilization to perform basic support duties. Militia units organize around towns, villages, urban subdistricts, and enterprises, and they vary widely from one location to another. The composition and mission of each unit reflects local conditions and personnel skills. In the South China Sea, the PAFMM plays a major role in coercive activities to achieve China’s political goals without fighting, part of broader Chinese military doctrine that states that confrontational operations short of war can be an effective means of accomplishing political objectives.

A large number of PAFMM vessels train with and support the PLA and CCG in tasks such as safeguarding maritime claims, protecting fisheries, and providing logistic support, search and rescue (SAR), and surveillance and reconnaissance. The Chinese government subsidizes local and provincial commercial organizations to operate militia ships to perform “official” missions on an ad hoc basis outside their regular commercial roles. The PAFMM has played a noteworthy role in a number of military campaigns and coercive incidents over the years, including the harassment of Vietnamese survey ships in 2011, a standoff with the Philippines at Scarborough Reef in 2012, and a standoff involving a Chinese oil rig in 2014. In the past, the PAFMM rented fishing boats from companies or individual fisherman, but it appears that China is building a state-owned fishing fleet for its maritime militia force in the South China Sea. Hainan Province, adjacent to the South China Sea, ordered the construction of 84 large militia fishing boats with reinforced hulls and ammunition storage for Sansha City, and the militia took delivery by the end of 2016.209

***

Plans,” Foreign Policy, April 19, 2021; Brad Lendon, “Beijing Has a Navy It Doesn’t Even Admit Exists, Experts Say. And It’s Swarming Parts of the South China Sea,” CNN, April 13, 2021; Samir Puri and Greg Austin, “What the Whitsun Reef Incident Tells Us About China’s Future Operations at Sea,” International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), April 9, 2021; Drake Long, “Chinese Maritime Militia on the Move in Disputed Spratly Islands,” Radio Free Asia, March 24, 2021; Andrew S. Erickson, “China’s Secretive Maritime Militia May Be Gathering at Whitsun Reef, Boats Designed to Overwhelm Civilian Foes Can Be Turned into Shields in Real Conflict,” Foreign Policy, March 22, 2021; Dmitry Filipoff, “Andrew S. Erickson and Ryan D. Martinson Discuss China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations,” Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), March 11, 2019; Jamie Seidel, “China’s Latest Island Grab: Fishing ‘Militia’ Makes Move on Sandbars around Philippines’ Thitu Island,”News.com.au, March 5, 2019; Gregory Poling, “Illuminating the South China Sea’s Dark Fishing Fleets,” Stephenson Ocean Security Project (Center for Strategic and International Studies), January 9, 2019; AndrewS. Erickson,“Shining a Spotlight: Revealing China’s Maritime Militia to Deter its Use,” National Interest, November 25, 2018; Todd Crowell and Andrew Salmon,“Chinese Fisherman Wage Hybrid ‘People’s War’ on Asian Seas,” Asia Times, September 6, 2018; Andrew S. Erickson,“Exposed: Pentagon Report Spotlights China’s Maritime Militia,” National Interest, August 20, 2018; Jonathan Odom, “China’s Maritime Militia,” Straits Times, June 16, 2018; 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 No. 1, China Maritime Studies Institute, U.S. Naval War College, Newport, RI, March 2017, 22 pp.

208 Department of Defense, Annual Report to Congress [on] Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2018, p. 71.

209 Defense Intelligence Agency, China Military Power, Modernizing a Force to Fight and Win, 2019, p. 79. A similar passage appears in Department of Defense, Annual Report to Congress [on] Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2018, p. 72.

p. 104

A January 18, 2020, press report states

Before assuming his post as commander of the United States Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral Philip S. Davidson issued a stark warning about Washington’s loosening grip in the fiercely contested South China Sea.

“In short, China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios, short of war with the United States,” Davidson said during a Senate confirmation hearing ahead of his appointment as the top US military official in the region in May 2018.

For many analysts, the dire assessment was a long-overdue acknowledgement of their concerns. Today, there is a growing sense it did not go far enough.

Washington’s strategic advantage in the waterway, which holds massive untapped oil and gas reserves and through which about a third of global shipping passes, has diminished so much, according to some experts, that it is powerless to prevent Beijing from restricting access during peacetime and could struggle to gain the upper hand even in the event of an outright conflict with Chinese forces.

China, which claims almost the entire waterway, has tipped the balance of power not just through a massive build-up of its navy, they say, but also through the presence of a de facto militia made up of ostensibly non-military vessels and an island-building campaign, the profound strategic value of which has been lost on US policymakers.…

p. 105

“The US has lost advantage throughout the spectrum of operations, from low-level interaction against China’s maritime militia to higher-end conflict scenarios,” said James Kraska, a former US Navy commander who lectures at the Naval War College. … … …

REPORT SUMMARY

In an international security environment described as one of renewed great power competition, the South China Sea (SCS) has emerged as an arena of U.S.-China strategic competition. China’s actions in the SCS in recent years—including extensive island-building and base-construction activities at sites that it occupies in the Spratly Islands, as well as actions by its maritime forces to assert China’s claims against competing claims by regional neighbors such as the Philippines and Vietnam—have heightened concerns among U.S. observers that China is gaining effective control of the SCS, an area of strategic, political, and economic importance to the United States and its allies and partners. Actions by China’s maritime forces at the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea (ECS) are another concern for U.S. observers. Chinese domination of China’s near-seas region—meaning the SCS and ECS, along with the Yellow Sea—could substantially affect U.S. strategic, political, and economic interests in the Indo-Pacific region and elsewhere.

Potential general U.S. goals for U.S.-China strategic competition in the SCS and ECS include but are not necessarily limited to the following: fulfilling U.S. security commitments in the Western Pacific, including treaty commitments to Japan and the Philippines; maintaining and enhancing the U.S.-led security architecture in the Western Pacific, including U.S. security relationships with treaty allies and partner states; maintaining a regional balance of power favorable to the United States and its allies and partners; defending the principle of peaceful resolution of disputes and resisting the emergence of an alternative “might-makes-right” approach to international affairs; defending the principle of freedom of the seas, also sometimes called freedom of navigation; preventing China from becoming a regional hegemon in East Asia; and pursing these goals as part of a larger U.S. strategy for competing strategically and managing relations with China.

Potential specific U.S. goals for U.S.-China strategic competition in the SCS and ECS include but are not necessarily limited to the following: dissuading China from carrying out additional base- construction activities in the SCS, moving additional military personnel, equipment, and supplies to bases at sites that it occupies in the SCS, initiating island-building or base-construction activities at Scarborough Shoal in the SCS, declaring straight baselines around land features it claims in the SCS, or declaring an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the SCS; and encouraging China to reduce or end operations by its maritime forces at the Senkaku Islands in the ECS, halt actions intended to put pressure against Philippine-occupied sites in the Spratly Islands, provide greater access by Philippine fisherman to waters surrounding Scarborough Shoal or in the Spratly Islands, adopt the U.S./Western definition regarding freedom of the seas, and accept and abide by the July 2016 tribunal award in the SCS arbitration case involving the Philippines and China.

The issue for Congress is whether the Administration’s strategy for competing strategically with China in the SCS and ECS is appropriate and correctly resourced, and whether Congress should approve, reject, or modify the strategy, the level of resources for implementing it, or both. Decisions that Congress makes on these issues could substantially affect U.S. strategic, political, and economic interests in the Indo-Pacific region and elsewhere.

AUTHOR’S BIOGRAPHY—RONALD O’ROURKE

Mr. O’Rourke is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the Johns Hopkins University, from which he received his B.A. in international studies, and a valedictorian graduate of the University’s Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, where he received his M.A. in the same field.

Since 1984, Mr. O’Rourke has worked as a naval analyst for the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress. He has written many reports for Congress on various issues relating to the Navy, the Coast Guard, defense acquisition, China’s naval forces and maritime territorial disputes, the Arctic, the international security environment, and the U.S. role in the world. He regularly briefs Members of Congress and Congressional staffers, and has testified before Congressional committees on many occasions.

In 1996, he received a Distinguished Service Award from the Library of Congress for his service to Congress on naval issues.

In 2010, he was honored under the Great Federal Employees Initiative for his work on naval, strategic, and budgetary issues.

In 2012, he received the CRS Director’s Award for his outstanding contributions in support of the Congress and the mission of CRS.

In 2017, he received the Superior Public Service Award from the Navy for service in a variety of roles at CRS while providing invaluable analysis of tremendous benefit to the Navy for a period spanning decades.

Mr. O’Rourke is the author of several journal articles on naval issues, and is a past winner of the U.S. Naval Institute’s Arleigh Burke essay contest. He has given presentations on naval, Coast Guard, and strategy issues to a variety of U.S. and international audiences in government, industry, and academia.

CLICK BELOW FOR THE FULL TEXT OF SOME OF THE PUBLICATIONS CITED IN O’ROURKE’S CRS REPORT:

Andrew S. Erickson, “Maritime Numbers Game: Understanding and Responding to China’s Three Sea Forces,” Indo-Pacific Defense Forum Magazine 43.4 (December 2018): 30-35.

Andrew S. Erickson and Emily de La Bruyere, “Crashing Its Own Party: China’s Unusual Decision to Spy on Joint Naval Exercises,” China Real Time Report (中国实时报), Wall Street Journal, 19 July 2014.

Andrew S. Erickson and Emily de La Bruyere, “China’s RIMPAC Maritime-Surveillance Gambit,” The National Interest, 29 July 2014.

Andrew S. Erickson, “PRC National Defense Ministry Spokesman Sr. Col. Geng Yansheng Offers China’s Most-Detailed Position to Date on Dongdiao-class Ship’s Intelligence Collection in U.S. EEZ during RIMPAC Exercise,” China Analysis from Original Sources 以第一手资料研究中国, 1 August 2014.

Andrew S. Erickson on the ‘Decade of Greatest Danger’,” interviewed by Eyck Freymann, The Wire China, 25 April 2021.

Andrew S. Erickson,“Fact Sheet: The People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM),” China Analysis from Original Sources 以第一手资料研究中国, 29 April 2019.

Andrew S. Erickson, “China’s Secretive Maritime Militia May Be Gathering at Whitsun Reef,” Foreign Policy, 22 March 2021.

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.

Andrew S. Erickson, “Shining a Spotlight: Revealing China’s Maritime Militia to Deter its Use,” The National Interest, 25 November 2018.

Andrew S. Erickson, “Exposed: Pentagon Report Spotlights China’s Maritime Militia,” The National Interest, 20 August 2018.

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).

***

Manfred Meyer (edited by Larry Bond and Chris Carlson), Modern Chinese Maritime Forces (Admiralty Trilogy Group, 1 July 2021).

  • “A compilation of ships and boats of the Chinese Navy, Coast Guard, Maritime Militia and other state authorities”
  • In terms of ship numbers, each of China’s three sea forces is the world’s largest by a large margin. For the scenarios that most concern the U.S. and its regional allies, these numbers matter greatly.
    • This suggests an important conclusion: China’s numerical sea force supremacy and the corresponding need for power projection and presence to counter it effectively demonstrates the need for a substantially-sized U.S. Navy. This book can help inform related deliberations and development. All the more reason to consult this handy compendium today!
  • Click here to download sample content.
  • Includes new entry on the Type 039C Yuan-class SSP (p. 22)…
  • Check out the crane ship coverage on pp. 144–46!
  • Unique PAFMM ship silhouettes and related information on pp. 107–08! Updated to include Guangdong Province vessels.
  • You can order a copy here. Volume is updated periodically and single purchase includes access to future updates.

The Admiralty Trilogy Group (ATG) is pleased to announce that in addition to publishing games supporting its tactical naval game system, the Admiralty Trilogy, it has released its first nonfiction book. Click here to read the announcement.

Modern Chinese Maritime Forces, by Manfred Meyer, a noted artist and illustrator, provides up-to-the minute information on Chinese sea power. It lists all Chinese state vessels – not just the People’s Liberation Army Navy, but the Coast Guard, China Maritime Surveillance, China Fisheries law Enforcement Command, and many other state-sponsored agencies that carry out China’s policies at sea.

Over 570 drawings show everything from aircraft carriers to buoy tenders, accompanied by detailed information on their characteristics. Additional supporting material includes theater navy assignments for individual ships as well as descriptions of the Chinese systems for hull numbers and equipment designations. This compact book has the most complete unclassified information on Chinese state-owned vessels available anywhere.

I was honored to contribute a Foreword, in which I write: “Today, China’s maritime forces have the most ships of any nation. This pathbreaking book documents their force structure in unprecedented detail.”

Modern Chinese Naval Forces is available as either a searchable .pdf or a softcover 139-page book. Both can be bought as a bundle for a reduced price.

  • Andrew S. Erickson, “Foreword,” in Manfred Meyer (edited by Larry Bond and Chris Carlson), Modern Chinese Maritime Forces (Admiralty Trilogy Group, 2021), 3.

FOREWORD

Ships are the ultimate embodiment of maritime strategy. Today, China’s maritime forces have the most ships of any nation. This pathbreaking book documents their force structure in unprecedented detail, making it an invaluable reference for all who seek to understand Beijing’s seaward surge and its manifold implications.

While remaining shackled to undeniable geostrategic realities on land, and hemmed in by “island chains” surrounding peripheral seas, China has gone to sea dramatically in both commercial and military dimensions. It is arguably the first continental power in two millennia to become a successful hybrid land-sea power and keep that sea change on course sustainably. Rather than operate freely on exterior lines like such geographically advantaged sea powers as the United States, the United Kingdom, and Japan, China must radiate sea power from interior lines in a way that currently prioritizes the assertion of increasing control over its disputed sovereignty claims in the Yellow, East, and South China Seas while seeking growing influence across the Indo-Pacific and nascent global access and presence.

To pursue these radiating ripples of maritime interests and activities, China draws on three sea forces, each the maritime component of one of its three armed forces: the (1) People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), (2) China Coast Guard (CCG), and (3) People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM). Each Chinese sea force has the world’s most ships in its category. The volume covers in great depth China’s first and second sea forces, the PLAN and CCG, which contain the vast majority of its purpose-built government vessels. This fully-updated new edition has been revised to also include key PAFMM vessels. In doing so, it uniquely elucidates the three-pronged trident of Bejiing’s maritime force structure.

China’s ship numbers matter, greatly. First, China increasingly enjoys both quantity and quality at sea. In recent years China has overcome Cold War shipbuilding that produced crude Soviet-style hulks. The PLAN, naturally China’s most advanced sea force technologically, has most dramatically replaced backward rustbuckets with increasing numbers of sophisticated platforms. But the CCG and PAFMM are also modernizing significantly. Of China’s three sea forces, its coast guard has grown the most rapidly in numbers and enjoys the greatest global numerical superiority.

China’s shipbuilding juggernaut, powered by what until very recently was indisputably the world’s fastest-growing multi-trillion-dollar economy, has sustained rapid modernization of all three sea forces even as numbers of modern vessels grow substantially. China’s commercial shipbuilding juggernaut subsidizes overhead costs for construction of all three sea forces’ vessels, an impossibility for America’s military-focused shipbuilding industry. CCG construction is thus both economical and efficient. Commercial off-the-shelf drivetrains and electronics, together with a lack of complex combat systems and weapons, facilitate rapid assembly with multiple units constructed simultaneously.

Second, when it comes to deployment, even the most advanced ship simply cannot be in more than one place at once. Numbers matter significantly when it comes to maintaining presence and influence in vital seas. This is particularly true regarding the growing Sino-American strategic competition where the United States is playing a distant away game. U.S. Coast Guard cutters are focused near American waters, far from any international disputes, while the U.S. Navy is dispersed around the world, with many forces separated from maritime East Asia by responsibilities, geography, and time. Meanwhile, all three major Chinese sea forces remain focused first and foremost on the contested “Near Seas” (the Yellow, East, and South China Seas) and their immediate approaches, close to China’s homeland bases, land-based air and missile coverage, and supply lines.

For all these reasons, a complete unclassified order of battle for China’s Navy, Coast Guard, and Maritime Militia is long overdue. This pioneering volume finally fills that vital void. I commend it to everyone seeking to understand how China is making such great waves on the world’s oceans, and what course it may take in coming years.

Andrew S. Erickson

China Maritime Studies Institute

Newport, Rhode Island

REVIEWS

“This is a phenomenally thorough project, and I suspect it is both more complete and up to date than anything available to our armed forces at a classified or unclassified level. Herr Meyer’s meticulous research and superb drawing skills have produced a reference resource of unparalleled usefulness for anyone needing a handy reference for China’s vast naval and paranaval forces.” 

– A.D. Baker III, former editor of Combat Fleets of the World

“I think it is for the first time that such a nearly complete overview of the Chinese maritime services has been made available to the public. The Chinese navy has risen in twenty years from a regional outdated navy to one of the global players which cannot be overlooked by the other world and regional powers.”

– Werner Globke, editor of Weyer’s Warships

“This is a badly-needed book: an accessible, compact guide to the ships of the Chinese navy and its related paramilitary services. All of the ships are shown in very clear scaled drawings, which give a good sense of size and configuration. No other guide of this type exists. That makes this quite possibly the only good reference to the Chinese fleets. No one concerned with current naval affairs can afford to miss it.”

– Dr. Norman Friedman, technical naval author

“I devoured this book. This is perhaps the most important and most comprehensive technical naval analysis book to appear in a generation. With the advent of Cold War II and the announced return to great power competition between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, this book should be on the bookshelf of every serious U.S. Navy officer and naval analyst. It will be the standard reference.”

– Captain Jerry Hendrix, USN (ret.), Center for a New American Security

***

Andrew Chubb, Chinese Nationalism and the “Gray Zone”: Case Analyses of Public Opinion and PRC Maritime Policy, Naval War College China Maritime Study 16 (May 2021).

This volume examines the role of popular nationalism in China’s maritime conduct. Analysis of nine case studies of assertive but ostensibly nonmilitary actions by which the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has advanced its position in the South and East China Seas in recent years reveals little compelling evidence of popular sentiment driving decision-making. While some regard for public opinion demonstrably shapes Beijing’s propaganda strategies on maritime issues, and sometimes its diplomatic practices as well, the imperative for Chinese leaders to satisfy popular nationalism is at most a contributing factor to policy choices they undertake largely on the basis of other considerations of power and interest. Where surges of popular nationalism have been evident, they have tended to follow after the PRC maritime actions in question, suggesting instead that Chinese authorities channeled public opinion to support existing policy.

***

Zachary Haver, “Unmasking China’s Maritime Militia,” Benar News, 17 May 2021.

China has long denied that it uses maritime militia forces to assert its maritime and territorial claims in the South China Sea, often describing the Chinese vessels clustered around disputed reefs and islets as just fishing boats.

But the paper trail left by the Chinese bureaucracy tells a different story.

Radio Free Asia analyzed bidding documents, corporate records, and other official data in an effort to shed new light on the maritime militia belonging to Sansha City, a municipality under Hainan province that administers China’s claims in the South China Sea from its headquarters on Woody Island in the Paracels.

RFA found that the state-owned fishing company in charge of Sansha City’s maritime militia fleet has managed projects involving classified national security information, a strong indicator that the company’s ships are engaged in more than just fishing.

In addition to tracking the fleet owned by this company, RFA also uncovered evidence that one of its ships was used to test an experimental command and communications system built with foreign technology, which likely transformed the vessel into a mobile communications and surveillance platform capable of transmitting intelligence back to the authorities on land.

And referencing the corporate records of fishermen legally registered in Sansha City against Chinese state media reporting on the city’s militia, RFA further verified that numerous “fishermen” living in Sansha are actually militiamen responsible for guarding China’s outposts.

China’s maritime militia has been in the news. The presence of numerous maritime militia ships at Whitsun Reef in the Spratly Islands in late March set off a diplomatic tussle between Beijing and Manila and prompted widespread international criticism of China, despite its assertion that these were just fishing vessels sheltering from poor weather.

“Recently, some Chinese fishing vessels take shelter near Niu’e Jiao [Whitsun Reef] due to rough sea conditions,” said a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines. “It has been a normal practice for Chinese fishing vessels to take shelter under such circumstances. There is no Chinese Maritime Militia as alleged,” the spokesperson stated.

But multiple open-source investigations have confirmed the presence of militia vessels near the reef.

Now, RFA is taking a step further to shed light on the true nature of China’s maritime militia, pulling back the curtain on the procurements, fleet, and personnel of this shadowy paramilitary force. … … …

The experimental system on the Qiongsanshayu 00209 even uses foreign satellite technology originating with companies from the United States, South Korea, and Japan, the 2018 environmental impact assessment shows.

The technology includes a KNS-Z12 satellite antenna from KNS Inc., a South Korean company; a POB-KUS100 upconverter from Wavestream, a U.S. company; a NJR2836U low-noise block downconverter from Japan Radio Company, a Japanese company; and a CDD 562AL satellite modem, a CDM 570A/L satellite modem, a CDM 625A satellite modem, and a CRS 170A switch from Comtech EF Data, a U.S. company.

Contracting records show that both Wavestream and Comtech EF Data are U.S. defense contractors, and the website of Comtech EF Data claims that the company has worked on numerous programs for clients like the U.S. Navy, U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, and U.S. Marines.

That means satellite communications technology from U.S. defense contractors might be supporting the operations of Sansha City’s maritime militia in the South China Sea.

This is not the first time China has obtained foreign technology for use in South China Sea. A recent report by RFA revealed that Sansha City has acquired over $930,000 of foreign hardware, equipment, software, and materials. And in a separate investigation, this reporter found that Sansha’s local maritime law enforcement force is also using satellite communications technology from a U.S. defense contractor.

***

Ryan D. Martinson, “No Ordinary Boats: Cracking the Code on China’s Spratly Maritime Militias,” Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), 17 May 2021.

A Chinese fishing vessel appears in a sensitive location—near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, a South China Sea reef, or just offshore from a U.S. military base. Is it an “ordinary” fishing boat, or is it maritime militia?

This straightforward question seldom yields straightforward answers. China does not publish a roster of maritime militia boats. That would undermine the militia’s key advantages—secrecy and deniability. Nor is it common for Chinese sources to recognize the militia affiliations of individual boats. Analysts can gather clues and make a case that a vessel is likely maritime militia, or not. That process requires painstaking effort, and the results are rarely definitive.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) may have made that process much easier, at least in the most contested parts of the South China Sea—the Spratly Islands. Since 2014, the PRC has built hundreds of large Spratly fishing vessels, collectively called the “Spratly backbone fleet” (南沙骨干船队). As I recently suggested at War on the Rocks, most if not all of these vessels are maritime militia affiliated. This insight can help overcome the perennial challenge of differentiating wayward Chinese fishermen from covert elements of China’s armed forces. … … …

Implications

In this article, I have argued that most if not all Spratly backbone boats are militia boats. They may actually catch fish, but their militia affiliation makes them available for state and military tasking. If this conclusion is correct, it offers useful new ways to identify Chinese maritime militia forces operating in the Spratly waters. While the PRC does not publish lists of active maritime militia boats, it does share information about which boats belong to the Spratly backbone fishing fleet. This can serve as an indicator of militia status.

How might this work in practice? At the time of this writing, a team of four Chinese fishing boats is operating illegally within 200 nautical miles of Vietnam’s coast, i.e., within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The four vessels are named Qionglinyu60017, 60018, 60019, and 60020, respectively, indicating they are registered to Hainan’s Lingao county (临高县). Vietnamese maritime law enforcement authorities could evict them, but before doing so they might ask, are they maritime militia?

My answer: “very likely.” A quick sifting of open-source materials reveals they are all backbone boats. This information appears in a March 2020 open letter posted on the website “Message Board for Leaders” (领导留言板). In it, the boat owners entreat PRC officials to restore fuel subsidies and other rewards for operating in “specially-designated waters” in 2018. Likely amounting to hundreds of thousands of RMB, the subsidies were withheld as punishment for operating in the Spratlys without the required licenses. To elicit special consideration, they emphasized that their four vessels were Spratly backbone boats. (Their ploy ultimately failed, as the Lingao County Bureau of Agriculture responded to their letter with a firm but polite refusal to change their decision.)

Southeast Asian countries can and should compile lists of known Spratly backbone boats. They can start with local newspapers, which are a great source for such information. In December 2016, for example, Zhanjiang Daily published an article about the launching of the city’s first Spratly backbone trawlers: the 48-meter (577 ton) Yuemayu 60222 and 60333. Registered to the city’s Mazhang District, the craft are owned by Zhanjiang Xixiang Fisheries (湛江喜翔渔业有限公司). With these clues in hand, one can then try to learn the identities of the company’s two other Spratly backbone boats, then still under construction.

The websites of Chinese shipbuilding companies are another useful source of information. Those with contracts to build backbone boats often issue news releases when these vessels are launched or delivered. In October 2017, for instance, the Fujian-based Lixin Ship Engineering Company launched five very large Spratly backbone trawlers built for a Guangdong fishing company, Maoming City Desheng Fisheries Limited. The five boats were delivered two months later. They included Yuedianyu 42881, 42882, 42883, 42885, and 42886. The boats were 63.6 meters in length and had the large (1244kW) engines typical of the backbone fleet. Of note, Desheng Fisheries is the same company that owns Yuemaobinyu 42881, 42882, 42883, 42885, and 42886, all spotted moored at Whitsun Reef in March. Indeed, they may be the very same boats (their names having been slightly altered in the years since they were built).

Provincial and municipal governments may be the most valuable sources of all. In November 2020, the Guangdong Bureau of Agriculture and Rural Affairs released information about the province’s Spratly (“NS,” for nansha) fishing license quota for 2021. The document indicated that 255 Guangdong boats would receive Spratly fishing licenses this year, among which 185 would go to backbone boats and 70 would go to “ordinary boats” (普通渔船). The Bureau attached an Excel spreadsheet listing the chosen vessels. The document omitted Table 1, containing the list of backbone boats. But it did include Table 2, listing the 70 “ordinary” fishing boats. Since only two types of Guangdong boats operate in the Spratlys—i.e., ordinary and backbone—any Guangdong boat there and not found in Table 2 must be a backbone bone, and therefore presumed militia.

These data help shed light on recent events. In March and April 2021, the Philippine Coast Guard released photos of Chinese fishing boats loitering at Whitsun Reef. Thanks to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), we know the identities of 23 of them.

Both AMTI and the Philippines Coast Guard classified them as “militia.” They are right. All are from Guangdong. All are absent from Table 2. And that makes them no “ordinary” boats.

***

Andrew S. Erickson, “PRC Gray Zone Operations in the South China Sea,” Maritime Power Seminar for Changing Character of War Centre (CCW), University of Oxford, based at Pembroke College and the Department of Politics and International Relations, 12 May 2021.

PRC GRAY ZONE OPERATIONS IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA BY ANDREW ERICKSON

PRC Gray Zone Operations in the South China Sea

Professor Andrew Erickson, US Naval War College

A component of the People’s Armed Forces (PAF), China’s Maritime Militia is a state-organized, -developed, and -controlled force operating under a direct military chain of command to conduct state-sponsored activities. Third among China’s sea forces after the Navy and Coast Guard, the PAF Maritime Militia (PAFMM) is locally supported, but answers to the very top of China’s military bureaucracy: Commander-in-Chief Xi Jinping himself. China employs the PAFMM in gray zone operations, or “low-intensity maritime rights protection struggles,” at a level designed to frustrate effective response by the other parties involved. China has used it to advance its disputed sovereignty claims in international sea incidents, particularly in the South China Sea. Publicly-documented examples include China’s 1974 seizure of the Western Paracel Islands from Vietnam;  involvement in the occupation and development of Mischief Reef resulting in a 1995 incident with the Philippines; harassment of various Vietnamese government/survey vessels, including the Bin Minh and Viking; harassment of USNS Impeccable (2009); participation in the 2012 seizure of Scarborough Reef from the Philippines and 2014 blockade of Second Thomas Shoal2014 repulsion of Vietnamese vessels from disputed waters surrounding CNOOC’s HYSY-981 oil rig; layered “cabbage-style” envelopment of the Philippines-claimed Sandy Cay shoal near Thitu Island; and most recently in ongoing operations in Union Banks, including Whitsun Reef. This Maritime Power Seminar will explain the nature and significance of China’s third sea force before suggesting broader implications and offering policy recommendations.

Recommended Reading, Downloadable PDFs:

Dr. Andrew S. Erickson is a Professor of Strategy in the U.S. Naval War College (NWC)’s China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI). A core founding member, he helped establish CMSI and stand it up officially in 2006, and has played an integral role in its development. CMSI inspired the creation of other research centers, which he has advised and supported; he is a China Aerospace Studies Institute Associate. Erickson is currently a Visiting Scholar in full-time residence at Harvard University’s John King Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, where he has been an Associate in Research since 2008. He runs the research website <www.andrewerickson.com>.

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/defenceimages/

***

Lieutenant General Berrier, DIA Director: Written Testimony, Senate Armed Services Committee, “Hearing: Worldwide Threats,” 29 April 2021.

CHINA

p. 10

Territorial Issues and Coercive Actions … …

In the South China Sea, China employed coercive approaches—such as using law enforcement vessels and maritime militias to enforce claims and advance interests—to deal with disputes in ways calculated to remain below the threshold of provoking armed conflict. In April, Beijing named 80 geographic features and announced two new administrative subdistricts covering disputed territory and maritime areas in the South China Sea. China also conducted a coercive survey operation, using a government

p. 11

research vessel and multiple Chinese Coast Guard vessels, to follow a Malaysian hydrocarbon exploration vessel within Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone. In August 2020, China test-fired multiple ballistic missiles that landed near Hainan and the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. Further, China’s Spratly Islands outposts are equipped with advanced antiship and antiaircraft missile systems and jamming equipment, comprising the most capable land-based weapons systems deployed by any claimant in the South China Sea.

In the East China Sea, China named 50 geographic features and continued using maritime law enforcement ships and aircraft to patrol near the Senkaku Islands and challenge Japan’s territorial claim to and administration of the islands.

Relations between China and Australia deteriorated in late 2020 with China restricting trade and engaging in high-profile diplomatic rows with Australia—including arbitrary detentions of Australian citizens—for supporting what China viewed as U.S.-led anti-Chinese measures. Effective 1 February 2021, China passed a law authorizing its coast guard ships to detain or forcibly evict foreign vessels in China’s claimed jurisdictional waters, impacting both the East China Sea and the South China Sea.

***

Ryan D. Martinson, “Xi Likes Big Boats (Coming Soon to a Reef Near You),” War on the Rocks, 28 April 2021.

When General Secretary Xi Jinping visited Tanmen village in April 2013, he famously urged China’s South China Sea fishers to “build big boats, charge forth on the deep sea, and catch big fish.” As recent scenes from Whitsun Reef reveal, however, very little “charging” is taking place, which means very few “big fish.” But, in one respect, Chinese fishers have clearly obeyed Xi’s command: They have built some very large boats.

Photos the Philippine government released in March show nests of Chinese fishing vessels moored in the lagoon of the disputed reef. Aside from the sheer number of craft present, one is struck by the size of individual vessels. Satellite images reveal many boats 60 meters (almost 200 feet) in length — dwarfing the Philippine Coast Guard vessel (BRP Cabra) sent to monitor their activities.

Chinese fishers did not buy these boats out of mere love for Xi. Even if that were their motive, they could not afford these expensive craft without some help. Rather, the more than 200 fishing vessels seen congregating at Whitsun Reef are largely a product of policies that China has designed to prioritize Spratly fishing vessels in a national program to modernize the country’s fishing industry. This program has provided China’s maritime militia with potent new tools with which to exert influence and control in disputed maritime space — posing significant new challenges for Southeast Asian states. … … …

Connections to the Maritime Militia

Despite being a component of China’s armed forces, the maritime militia lacks a national organization with its own leadership and budget. Most members have “day jobs” in marine industries, especially fishing. Thus, they are directly affected by policies regulating their respective industries. For instance, militiamen operating in the Spratlys receive Spratly fuel subsidies. They have also directly benefited from the Spratly fleet upgrade program discussed above.

Existing militia units have received new Spratly boats. From 2014 to 2015, for example, residents of Tanmen Village (Hainan) took advantage of the subsidy program to build over 50 steel-hulled vessels, each displacing 300 to 500 tons. Wang Shumao, second in command of Tanmen’s maritime militia company, was among the lucky recipients. The ordinarily serious Wang declared to a Chinese reporter, “Piloting my new steel-hulled fishing vessel feels awesome!” In a July 2016 essay, the Central Military Commission chief responsible for militia affairs, Wang Wenqing, highlighted the importance of additional policies to “bring maritime militia fishing vessels into local fishing vessel upgrade plans.”

In some locales, joining the militia is apparently a precondition for receiving the subsidies. For example, the fishing vessel upgrade plan for Hainan’s Yangpu Economic Development Zone clearly states that vessels receiving subsidies will enter the militia. This means that, when conducting sovereignty operations and other “national defense tasks” in the South China Sea, they “must submit to the [military’s] unified command and control.” Similar policies in Guangdong may also explain the militia affiliation of the nine large trawlers owned by Taishan’s Fancheng Fisheries Development, seven of which were recently observed operating at Union Banks.

Other sources treat the subsidized vessels as constituting an organizational whole subject to state control. A 2017 report reveals that, in the case of Guangdong, the development, training, and operations of the Spratly backbone fleet represent a joint effort by the provincial Fisheries Bureau and the Guangdong provincial military district. At the very least, this suggests a heavy militia element within the fleet, but it could also mean that every boat in the fleet is subject to military tasking.

Implications

Members of China’s maritime militia have operated in the Spratlys for over three decades. Today, they go there embedded in a brand new fleet comprising hundreds of large steel-hulled vessels — the product of a national program to modernize China’s marine fishing industry. The successful rollout of this program has enhanced the militia’s ability to perform all facets of its mission set.

In the Spratlys, the militia’s most important mission is to maintain presence in disputed space. Presence is the currency of control in the maritime domain, as the ocean cannot be occupied like land territory. Presence also allows maritime militia vessels to collect intelligence, thereby boosting the People Liberation Army’s awareness of foreign activities in these waters. The new vessels offer important advantages in this respect, as their size enables them to carry more fuel and provisions — giving them much greater endurance.

China’s maritime militia also sometimes perform more coercive operations. For instance, they provide security for Chinese civilian vessels as they operate in disputed space. The classic example of these “escort” operations involved the 2014 defense of the HYSY-981 drilling rig in waters south of the Paracel Islands. But more recently, in July 2019, members of the Sansha maritime militia — operating elements of their new fleet of 60-meter fishing vessels — flanked the Haiyangdizhi 8 as it conducted seismic surveys in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone. Larger vessels are better able to physically block other states’ forces from approaching the vulnerable craft under their protection. The militia is also known to harass foreign vessels operating in Chinese claimed space. They do this by threatening to ram or bump their victims, forcing them to cease operations or risk collision. Clearly, the coercive capacity of a 600-ton steel vessel is much greater than that of a 80-ton wooden one.

How might Southeast Asian states respond? Because of their comparative weakness, they cannot simply build more and bigger coast guard vessels and send them out to meet steel with steel. In fact, Beijing would probably relish another major confrontation near a disputed land feature. It would give it a pretext to escalate and potentially seize a new piece of territory.

These large modern fishing vessels in the hands of China’s maritime militia pose special challenges for Southeast Asian states. They make it much more difficult for countries like the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam to protect their exclusive rights to living and non-living resources out to 200 nautical miles from their coasts. Indeed, many boats in the new Spratly fishing fleet are larger than the regional coast guard cutters that would seek to board them. As a result, they should either accept the illegal presence of Chinese fishers within their exclusive economic zones, or use armed force to evict them — which could encourage Beijing to respond in kind. On the flip side, a better equipped maritime militia is also more capable of coercively imposing Chinas own prerogatives in disputed areas, by threatening the physical safety of foreign mariners with collision or worse. In sum, the new fleet enriches the “tool kit” used by China to assert control over vast areas of the South China Sea on the basis of its notorious — and utterly discredited — “nine-dash line.”

Instead, the best option for other Southeast Asian states may be to do as the Philippines government has done — to publicly document the activities of China’s new Spratly fishing fleet. This puts China on the defensive — forcing them to issue weak, unconvincing denials — and limits its ability to portray itself as the victim if and when an incident occurs. Ultimately, this approach could undermine Beijing’s favorite defense for new assertive behavior in the South China Sea (i.e., “they started it”). If Xi likes big boats, other Southeast Asian nations can at least create conditions in which he cannot lie.

***

Caught on Camera: Two Dozen Militia Boats at Whitsun Reef Identified,” Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, Center for Strategic and International Studies, 21 April 2021.

Last month, the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea, an interagency body housed within the Presidential Office in Manila, reported that more than 200 Chinese militia vessels were anchored at Whitsun Reef. The task force released photos of some of those vessels, collected during a patrol by the Philippine Coast Guard on March 7. Additional images and video were released after two subsequent patrols by the Philippine Coast Guard ship Cabra. As with other known militia deployments, the behavior of these vessels defies commercial explanation. Most have remained in the area for weeks or even months, riding at anchor in clusters without engaging in any fishing activity. Many are trawlers which, by definition, must move to fish. And blue skies have debunked the initial excuse from the Chinese Embassy in Manila that they were riding out a storm.

AMTI has identified 14 of the ships in these photos and videos. To these can be added the vessels of the Yuetaiyu fleet, numbered 18000-18999. Those nine ships have broadcast AIS from Whitsun several times, as previously reported by Andrew Erickson and Ryan Martinson. Their involvement in the militia has been well-documented and AMTI first tracked them patrolling Union Banks, which includes Whitsun Reef, in early 2019.

A photo taken during the initial Philippine patrol on March 7 shows six Chinese vessels tied together at Whitsun Reef. Only the bow numbers and the first two characters, Yue (粤) and Mao (茂), of five of the ships can be clearly seen. By cross referencing this information with vessel profiles in the commercial AIS database Marine Traffic, AMTI can identify them as the Yuemaobinyu (粤茂滨渔) 42881, 42882, 42883, 42885, and 42886.

These names will sound familiar in the Philippines. In early 2019, the Yuemaobinyu 42212—so named because it operates from the same port as these five—rammed and sank the Philippine fishing vessel F/B Gem-Ver 1 at Reed Bank. AMTI afterward discovered that the vessel had a history of government contracts and suspicious AIS activity, but could not conclusively prove that it was part of the militia.

Video shot during the Cabra’s first patrol on March 26-27 provides a clear shot of another vessel, the Yueyangxiyu (粤阳西渔) 96523:

Also visible is a vessel with the bow number 08041—almost certainly the Yuezhanyu (粤湛渔) 08041. That conclusion is supported by both AIS data from Marine Traffic and the later identification of its sister ships, the Yuezhanyu 08039, 08042, and 08043 in a video shot during the Cabra’s recent return visit on April 12-13.

This second video also captured the Yuexinhuiyu (粤新会渔) 60138 and 60139, which Andrew Erickson and Ryan Martinson recently profiled in Foreign Policy. … … …

***

Ryan D. Martinson and Andrew S. Erickson,Manila’s Images Are Revealing the Secrets of China’s Maritime Militia,” Foreign Policy, 19 April 2021.

Details of the ships haunting disputed rocks show China’s plans.

Six Chinese fishing vessels believed to be part of the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia, including the Yuexinhuiyu 60138 and 60139, are moored together at Whitsun Reef on March 27. PHOTO PROVIDED BY PHILIPPINE GOVERNMENT

The Philippines is regaining the initiative in the South China Sea. In an apparent policy shift, it has begun sharing unprecedented amounts of information about Chinese actions in the Spratly Islands, the archipelago of disputed rocks and reefs off the western coast of the Philippines. While Manila’s precise motives are unclear, its newfound transparency is creating fascinating new opportunities for understanding Beijing’s maritime strategy. This is especially true when it comes to China’s fleet of Spratly fishing vessels, some portion of which operates under the command of the Chinese military—units of the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM). Conceivably numbering thousands of vessels and with tens of thousands of personnel, this subcomponent of China’s armed forces is trained and equipped to support the People’s Liberation Army in advancing sovereignty claims to disputed features and sea areas.

Last week, the Philippine Coast Guard released images of Chinese fishing vessels moored at the Spratlys’ Whitsun Reef, taken by the crew of the BRP Cabra, a Coast Guard ship that approached close to the Chinese vessels. Gone are the hundreds of boats seen in March. What remains is a small number of Chinese fishing vessels, six of which are tied together in the lagoon.

One key point: The new photos and an accompanying video show that the vessels seen last week were the same six boats observed by the Cabra on its last patrol over two weeks ago. Real fishing vessels cannot afford to linger for weeks in a single spot like this, especially when the weather is perfect for fishing elsewhere. As the captains of these boats are plainly indifferent to the economic costs of inactivity, their protracted presence at Whitsun can only mean one thing: They are tasked with being there. Yes, China does sometimes pay ordinary fishers to linger in disputed space, but given the intense spotlight on Whitsun Reef it seems far more likely it has turned to the professionals. They are undoubtedly members of the PAFMM. … … …

***

Brad Lendon, “Beijing Has a Navy it Doesn’t Even Admit Exists, Experts Say. And it’s Swarming Parts of the South China Sea,” CNN, 12 April 2021.

… … … Despite Chinese government denials, there is little ambiguity in Western circles about what the Pentagon calls the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM). …

Some experts have taken to referring to the militia as “Little Blue Men,” a reference to the color of their boats’ hulls and to Russia’s “Little Green Men,” soldiers in unmarked green uniforms who infiltrated Crimea before Moscow annexed it from Ukraine in 2014. …

“The Militia is a key component of China’s Armed Forces and a part of what it calls the ‘People’s Armed Forces System,’” Conor Kennedy and Andrew Erickson, two leading American experts on the subject, wrote for the US Naval War College in 2017.

It is “a state-organized, -developed, and -controlled force operating under a direct military chain of command to conduct Chinese state-sponsored activities,” they added.

The alleged militia is integrated with China’s fishing fleet, the world’s largest with more than 187,000 boats, Erickson told CNN, but the actual number of armed boats remains unclear to Western experts.

Whatever their ranks, experts say they can lead large flotillas of actual fishing boats in actions to further Chinese government policies and territorial claims — including those in the South China Sea.

“China is typically secretive about its Third Sea Force (behind the PLA Navy and coast guard), which might conceivably number in the thousands of vessels and in the tens of thousands of personnel. Possibly more,” Erickson told CNN.

2020 US Defense Department report on the Chinese military mentions only 84 actual maritime militia boats, all assigned to a unit operating out of Sansha City on Hainan island, in the northern reaches of the South China Sea. The unit, established in 2016, gets frequent subsidies to operate in the Spratly Islands, the report said.

“This particular PAFMM unit is also China’s most professional. Its forces are paid salaries independent of any clear commercial fishing responsibilities and recruited from recently separated veterans,” it said.

But Erickson told CNN the boats seen around Whitsun Reef in recent weeks looked different from those in the Hainan unit, suggesting full-time militia boats are greater in number than previously thought.

Erickson and colleague Ryan Martinson, writing in the journal Foreign Policy late last month, said tracking of some of the Chinese boats at Whitsun using open-source intelligence shows they came from Taishan in China’s southern Guangdong province.

At least seven “enormous” trawlers that were in the Whitsun lagoon could be part of “the most advanced PAFMM unit yet developed and deployed,” Erickson and Martinson wrote.

Using automatic identification system data, they said the boats at Whitsun had patrolled the Union Banks, where Whitsun Reef is, as well as other Spratly Islands features like the Subi and Mischief reefs, both of which have been built up and militarized by the Chinese armed forces.

“There is no evidence of fishing whatsoever during these laser-focused operations, but every indication of trolling for territorial claims,” the pair wrote.

Data that Erickson and Martinson compiled from MarineTraffic.com shows just how frequently the unit has been in the Spratly Islands chain over the past year. …

What is the purpose of a maritime militia?

The concept of a maritime militia, or an irregular naval force, allows China to make territorial claims in huge numbers without ever involving the People’s Liberation Army proper, Western experts say.

Even if lead boats like those mentioned by Erickson and Martinson are relatively small in number, they can spearhead flotillas in the hundreds — as seen in Whitsun Reef.

“These classic ‘gray zone’ operations are designed to ‘win without fighting’ by overwhelming the adversary with swarms of fishing vessels,” Derek Grossman, a RAND Corp defense analyst, wrote last year.

Jay Batongbacal, director of the Institute for Maritime Affairs at the University of the Philippines, summed up what Beijing has done in recent weeks at Whitsun Reef and recent years across the South China Sea — 1.3 million square miles of water, almost all of which Beijing claims as Chinese territory.

“They are now essentially occupying Whitsun Reef by the mere presence of their vessels,” Batongbacal said in an interview with National Public Radio.

“That’s actually the objective of the Chinese strategy, to establish de facto control and dominance over the entire South China Sea through these incremental moves.” … … …

***

Global Trends 2040: A More Contested World (Office of the Director of National Intelligence: National Intelligence Council, March 2021).

p. 104 [Situating Maritime Militia in Spectrum of Conflict]

***

Manfred Meyer (edited by Larry Bond and Chris Carlson), Modern Chinese Maritime Forces (Admiralty Trilogy Group, 1 April 2021).

  • “A compilation of all ships and boats of the Chinese Navy, Coast Guard, Maritime Militia and other state authorities”
  • In terms of ship numbers, each of China’s three sea forces is the world’s largest by a large margin. For the scenarios that most concern the U.S. and its regional allies, these numbers matter greatly.
    • This suggests an important conclusion: China’s numerical sea force supremacy and the corresponding need for power projection and presence to counter it effectively demonstrates the need for a substantially-sized U.S. Navy. This book can help inform related deliberations and development. All the more reason to consult this handy compendium today!
  • Click here to download sample content.
  • Check out the crane ship coverage on pp. 144–46!
  • Unique PAFMM ship silhouettes and related information on pp. 107–08! Updated to include Guangdong Province vessels.
  • You can order a copy here. Volume is updated periodically and single purchase includes access to future updates.

The Admiralty Trilogy Group (ATG) is pleased to announce that in addition to publishing games supporting its tactical naval game system, the Admiralty Trilogy, it has released its first nonfiction book. Click here to read the announcement.

Modern Chinese Maritime Forces, by Manfred Meyer, a noted artist and illustrator, provides up-to-the minute information on Chinese sea power. It lists all Chinese state vessels – not just the People’s Liberation Army Navy, but the Coast Guard, China Maritime Surveillance, China Fisheries law Enforcement Command, and many other state-sponsored agencies that carry out China’s policies at sea.

Over 570 drawings show everything from aircraft carriers to buoy tenders, accompanied by detailed information on their characteristics. Additional supporting material includes theater navy assignments for individual ships as well as descriptions of the Chinese systems for hull numbers and equipment designations. This compact book has the most complete unclassified information on Chinese state-owned vessels available anywhere.

I was honored to contribute a Foreword, in which I write: “Today, China’s maritime forces have the most ships of any nation. This pathbreaking book documents their force structure in unprecedented detail.”

Modern Chinese Naval Forces is available as either a searchable .pdf or a softcover 139-page book. Both can be bought as a bundle for a reduced price.

  • Andrew S. Erickson, “Foreword,” in Manfred Meyer (edited by Larry Bond and Chris Carlson), Modern Chinese Maritime Forces (Admiralty Trilogy Group, 2021), 3.

FOREWORD

Ships are the ultimate embodiment of maritime strategy. Today, China’s maritime forces have the most ships of any nation. This pathbreaking book documents their force structure in unprecedented detail, making it an invaluable reference for all who seek to understand Beijing’s seaward surge and its manifold implications.

While remaining shackled to undeniable geostrategic realities on land, and hemmed in by “island chains” surrounding peripheral seas, China has gone to sea dramatically in both commercial and military dimensions. It is arguably the first continental power in two millennia to become a successful hybrid land-sea power and keep that sea change on course sustainably. Rather than operate freely on exterior lines like such geographically advantaged sea powers as the United States, the United Kingdom, and Japan, China must radiate sea power from interior lines in a way that currently prioritizes the assertion of increasing control over its disputed sovereignty claims in the Yellow, East, and South China Seas while seeking growing influence across the Indo-Pacific and nascent global access and presence.

To pursue these radiating ripples of maritime interests and activities, China draws on three sea forces, each the maritime component of one of its three armed forces: the (1) People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), (2) China Coast Guard (CCG), and (3) People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM). Each Chinese sea force has the world’s most ships in its category. The volume covers in great depth China’s first and second sea forces, the PLAN and CCG, which contain the vast majority of its purpose-built government vessels. This fully-updated new edition has been revised to also include key PAFMM vessels. In doing so, it uniquely elucidates the three-pronged trident of Bejiing’s maritime force structure.

China’s ship numbers matter, greatly. First, China increasingly enjoys both quantity and quality at sea. In recent years China has overcome Cold War shipbuilding that produced crude Soviet-style hulks. The PLAN, naturally China’s most advanced sea force technologically, has most dramatically replaced backward rustbuckets with increasing numbers of sophisticated platforms. But the CCG and PAFMM are also modernizing significantly. Of China’s three sea forces, its coast guard has grown the most rapidly in numbers and enjoys the greatest global numerical superiority.

China’s shipbuilding juggernaut, powered by what until very recently was indisputably the world’s fastest-growing multi-trillion-dollar economy, has sustained rapid modernization of all three sea forces even as numbers of modern vessels grow substantially. China’s commercial shipbuilding juggernaut subsidizes overhead costs for construction of all three sea forces’ vessels, an impossibility for America’s military-focused shipbuilding industry. CCG construction is thus both economical and efficient. Commercial off-the-shelf drivetrains and electronics, together with a lack of complex combat systems and weapons, facilitate rapid assembly with multiple units constructed simultaneously.

Second, when it comes to deployment, even the most advanced ship simply cannot be in more than one place at once. Numbers matter significantly when it comes to maintaining presence and influence in vital seas. This is particularly true regarding the growing Sino-American strategic competition where the United States is playing a distant away game. U.S. Coast Guard cutters are focused near American waters, far from any international disputes, while the U.S. Navy is dispersed around the world, with many forces separated from maritime East Asia by responsibilities, geography, and time. Meanwhile, all three major Chinese sea forces remain focused first and foremost on the contested “Near Seas” (the Yellow, East, and South China Seas) and their immediate approaches, close to China’s homeland bases, land-based air and missile coverage, and supply lines.

For all these reasons, a complete unclassified order of battle for China’s Navy, Coast Guard, and Maritime Militia is long overdue. This pioneering volume finally fills that vital void. I commend it to everyone seeking to understand how China is making such great waves on the world’s oceans, and what course it may take in coming years.

Andrew S. Erickson

China Maritime Studies Institute

Newport, Rhode Island

REVIEWS

“This is a phenomenally thorough project, and I suspect it is both more complete and up to date than anything available to our armed forces at a classified or unclassified level. Herr Meyer’s meticulous research and superb drawing skills have produced a reference resource of unparalleled usefulness for anyone needing a handy reference for China’s vast naval and paranaval forces.” 

– A.D. Baker III, former editor of Combat Fleets of the World

“I think it is for the first time that such a nearly complete overview of the Chinese maritime services has been made available to the public. The Chinese navy has risen in twenty years from a regional outdated navy to one of the global players which cannot be overlooked by the other world and regional powers.”

– Werner Globke, editor of Weyer’s Warships

“This is a badly-needed book: an accessible, compact guide to the ships of the Chinese navy and its related paramilitary services. All of the ships are shown in very clear scaled drawings, which give a good sense of size and configuration. No other guide of this type exists. That makes this quite possibly the only good reference to the Chinese fleets. No one concerned with current naval affairs can afford to miss it.”

– Dr. Norman Friedman, technical naval author

“I devoured this book. This is perhaps the most important and most comprehensive technical naval analysis book to appear in a generation. With the advent of Cold War II and the announced return to great power competition between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, this book should be on the bookshelf of every serious U.S. Navy officer and naval analyst. It will be the standard reference.”

– Captain Jerry Hendrix, USN (ret.), Center for a New American Security

***

Andrew S. Erickson and Ryan D. Martinson, “Records Expose China’s Maritime Militia at Whitsun Reef,” Foreign Policy, 29 March 2021.

Beijing Claims They Are Fishing Vessels. The Data Shows Otherwise.

Accompanying slide deck: Andrew S. Erickson and Ryan D. Martinson, “Exposed! Here are China’s Maritime Militia Ships at Whitsun Reef,” China Analysis from Original Sources 以第一手资料研究中国, 29 March 2021.

Even as dozens of Chinese “fishing vessels” strongly resembling the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM) have been anchoring at the disputed Whitsun Reef—without doing any fishing—within the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone in the South China Sea, Chinese officials have responded to formal Philippine and U.S. concerns about maritime militia activities with denial and obfuscation. When pressed on March 22, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying deflected: “Chinese fishing boats have been fishing in the waters near the reef all along. Recently, due to maritime situation, some fishing boats have been taking shelter from the wind near [Whitsun Reef], which is quite normal.” Her Chinese Embassy Manila counterpart issued a direct denial: “There is no Chinese maritime militia as alleged.”

These statements are provably untrue. At the very least, seven PAFMM vessels have been operating at the Spratly Islands’ Union Banks, including Whitsun Reef—both during the past month and multiple times over the past year.

Both in February and March this year, identified PAFMM vessels transmitting automatic identification system (AIS) signals were present in Whitsun’s lagoon. Openly available sources confirm our exposé from multiple angles. The only “paywalls” they lie behind are Chinese characters and vessel-tracking websites. [Click here to view an accompanying PDF with images and links.]

Among the massed “fishing vessels” at Union Banks are at least seven enormous trawlers owned by an obscure fishing company: Taishan Fancheng Fisheries Development. Established in October 2016, it is based in Taishan (population around 1 million), itself administered by Jiangmen, a city of 1.7 million in Guangdong Province. PAFMM units typically reflect their locality’s socioeconomic characteristics. It follows that this organization, based on populous, prosperous coastline, would support a leading unit—perhaps, in some respects, the most advanced PAFMM unit yet developed and deployed.

The seven trawlers currently at Union Banks were built by Guangxin Shipbuilding and Heavy Industry. On March 15, 2017, Fancheng Fisheries and Guangxin Shipbuilding signed a contract for nine 62.8-meter-long “backbone Spratly fishing vessels,” Guangdong’s thirteenth batch of such vessels approved by the Ministry of Agriculture. Guangxin had no experience building fishing vessels but completed the task in just nine months, with sea trials in October 2017 and delivery by December.

Nominally in charge of Fancheng Fisheries, General Manager Huang Jiang is far from the only key player. At the nine trawlers’ delivery ceremony on Dec. 5, 2017, the guests of honor included two Chinese military officers: Wan Liang’an, deputy commander of the Jiangmen military subdistrict, and Zhang Yuanfa, director of the War Readiness Construction Bureau, Jiangmen military subdistrict. The presence of Wan and Zhang indicates the Fancheng Nine were no ordinary fishing vessels but rather the newest additions to the Taishan PAFMM—subject to a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) chain of command.

Distinctively-numbered Yuetaiyu 18000, 18111, 18222, 18333, 18555, 18666, 18777, 18888, and 18999, the Fancheng Nine operate out of Shadi Bay on Shangchuan Island’s southern end. With this base of operations, 105 miles southwest of Hong Kong, they apparently constitute the core of a “Far Seas Militia Squadron.” Plans to establish a Far Seas Militia Squadron were discussed at a Taishan “Armed Forces Work Meeting” in March 2016—the same year Fancheng Fisheries was set up. In PAFMM terminology, “Far Seas” often designates remote waters within the first island chain, including the southern reaches of the South China Sea. … … …

***

Andrew S. Erickson, “China’s Secretive Maritime Militia May Be Gathering at Whitsun Reef,” Foreign Policy, 22 March 2021.

Boats designed to overwhelm civilian foes can be turned into shields in real conflict.

An obscure boomerang-shaped feature in the South China Sea may host the next phase of PRC maritime coercion. Since at least March 7, 2021, many dozens of large, blue-hulled PRC ships have been lashed together in Whitsun Reef’s lagoon. They have not been seen to do any fishing, but run powerful lights at night. Citing the presence of 220 China Maritime Militia (CMM) vessels, on March 21 Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana publicly demanded their departure from his nation’s Exclusive Economic Zone. Manila supplemented his statement with a diplomatic protest from Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.

But Beijing remains defiant. Spokespeople from the PRC’s foreign ministry (Hua Chunying) and embassy in Manila have denied that the vessels belong to China’s militia, defended their presence as sheltering from (unobservable) inclement weather, and deflected by making the usual PRC claim that others should not inflame the situation with irresponsible accusations. But on the morning of March 22, Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief Lt. Gen. Sobejana reports, the Philippine Air Force observed “183 CMM vessels” still present.

When it comes to South China Sea features, few things are simple. While Whitsun Reef remains undeveloped and uninhabited for now, it is claimed by the Philippines as Julian Felipe Reef, by Vietnam as Da Ba Dau, and by China as 牛轭礁 Niu’e Jiao (“Oxbow Reef”). As the easternmost feature in the Spratlys’ multi-nationally occupied Union Banks, it is strategically situated astride busy sea lanes—an ideal base for monitoring and operational dispatch. Previously a low-tide elevation, Whitsun apparently now has “a 100-meter long sand dune that has reportedly grown in area and height.” Since at least the 1990s, China and Vietnam have been playing a cat-and-mouse game of sovereignty maneuvers around Whitsun, with China attempting to stake a claim with markers such as buoys, and Vietnamese forces operating from nearby features such as nearby Sin Cowe Island and removing them.

In recent years, whenever Beijing has chosen to focus on a feature or factor, it has increased efforts to a scale and intensity that its rivals cannot directly match. Case in point: All South China Sea states occupying features enhanced them to some extent, but starting around 2014 Beijing began industrial-scale “island building” and fortification that left its rivals in the coral dust. Thus whatever exactly is happening at Whitsun Reef at the moment, it’s a good time to look at China’s well-tested approach to eroding neighbors’ sovereignty and international rules and norms in the South China Sea—and what can be done to counter it. … … …

***

Aie Balagtas See and Zachary Haver, “Manila Protests Presence of Hundreds of Chinese Ships in Contested Waters,” Radio Free Asia, 22 March 2021.

… … … According to Philippine National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., the 220 Chinese ships were seen moored at the “large boomerang shaped shallow coral reef” [Whitsun Reef] on March 7 – and they were not fishing.

“Despite clear weather at the time, the Chinese vessels massed at the reef showed no actual fishing activities and had their full white lights turned on during night time,” Esperon said on Saturday.

Photographs of the 220 ships indicated they were [most likely] maritime militia vessels, which were not involved in fishing activities, said Andrew Erickson, a professor of strategy at the U.S. Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute.

“The photos from the Philippine Coast Guard and statement from Defense Secretary Lorenzana match verified information on China’s People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM),” he told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

“The ships photographed look and act very much like the 84 large steel-hulled vessels purpose-built at multiple shipyards by 2016 for the leading Sansha City Maritime Militia, as documented by both the U.S. Department of Defense and Office of Naval Intelligence.”

Automatic identification system-data for the past few years had shown Sansha ships engaged in rotational forward deployments to China-claimed features and outposts throughout the South China Sea, he said.

“Crewed by well-salaried full-time personnel recruited in part from former PLA ranks, they appear not to bother fishing – the better to focus on trolling for territory,” Erickson said, referring to China’s People’s Liberation Army.

“Such vessels reportedly have weapons lockers, and official PRC [People’s Republic of China] photos depict exercises in which they are loaded with ‘light arms.’”

The presence of these vessels conforms to Beijing’s established South China Sea modus operandi, Erickson added.

“Two implications arise immediately: First, if not properly countered at Whitsun Reef, or elsewhere, PAFMM vessels could support further territorial seizure akin to what China achieved at Scarborough Shoal in 2012,” he said.

In 2012, the Chinese seized Scarborough Shoal, a traditional fishing ground within the 200-nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone of the Philippines, after a two-month standoff with the Philippine Navy.

“Second, if these [approximately] 220 vessels indeed belong to leading professionalized, militarized PAFMM units, they alone should significantly increase the U.S. government’s sole public estimate of total PAFMM ship numbers – which may be excessively conservative at [approximately] 84 vessels total, a number projected to remain fixed through 2030.” … … …

***

Professor Williams is a senior research scholar, lecturer, and executive director of the Paul Tsai China Center at Yale Law School. He is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

… …

Maritime Crisis Management and China’s “White Hulls” and “Blue Hulls” 

Amid an increase in the frequency and intensity of Chinese and American military operationsin maritime East Asia, an array of commentators have argued that there is an urgent need for the United States and China to work together to improve bilateral crisis avoidance and communication mechanisms. Nowhere is this need more evident than in the contested waters of the South China Sea and East China Sea. The recent history of U.S.-China military dialoguesoffers little cause for optimism about the potential for a near-term breakthrough.

Nonetheless, the Biden administration has an early opportunity to test the sincerity of China’s professed desire to prevent and manage the risks of conflict. As an initial good-faith step, Washington and Beijing should work to supplement existing maritime safety protocols to include non-naval vessels such as coast guards and maritime militias.

Recent legal developments related to the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) have brought this issue to a head. On Jan. 21, Beijing passed a law that authorizes the Chinese Coast Guard to use “all necessary measures” to prevent foreign organizations and individuals from violating, or posing an “imminent danger” of violating, China’s “sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdictional rights.” This is the first time China has spelled out in law the conditions under which its coast guard can fire weapons on foreign vessels. The new law permits the coast guard to use force under prescribed circumstances to defend China’s “jurisdictional waters” (管辖海域)—a deliberatelyambiguous term that likely encompasses China’s ill-defined claimsover nearly 80 percent of the waters in the South China Sea. …

The Coast Guard Law also implicitly concedes what American officials have long argued: Maritime accidents and encounters involving the threat or use of force are at least as likely to arise from the operation of China’s coast guard as from its naval vessels. And it’s not just the Coast Guard and the Navy. China’s People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM) raises similar concerns given its function as an armed reserve force that assists the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and the CCG in enforcing China’s sovereignty claims. As China doubles down on these enforcement activities, all signs point to a growing role for so-called “white hull” coast guards and “blue hull” maritime militias in addition to “gray hull” naval vessels. … …

CUES and the maritime safety MOU do not expressly apply to coast guard vessels or to China’s armed fishing militia. As Andrew Erickson has explained, China uses these non-naval vessels for “gray zone operations against vessels from its maritime neighbors, as well as the U.S., at a level designed to frustrate effective response by the other parties involved.” These types of vessels are deployed to assert and defend China’s expansive maritime claims “more regularly and extensively than its navy.” Erickson and Connor Kennedy have shown that the PAFMM, which includes both fishing vessels and purpose-built vessels designed to look like fishing vessels, is organized and commanded by the PLA’s local military commands. Given the high percentage of incidents involving these forces, the absence of a CUES-like arrangement for non-naval vessels is a glaring weakness in the regional maritime safety regime. … …

This is not to suggest that CUES has been a silver bullet for safe interactions between U.S. and Chinese naval vessels. Nor could a supplemental protocol that applies to “white hulls” and “blue hulls” resolve the deeper maritime security tensions between China and the United States or other countries. But a CUES-type document for non-naval vessels could serve as a useful building block, especially if accompanied by a commitment that representatives of coast guards and maritime militia forces will actively participate in bilateral risk reduction and crisis communication talks going forward. The United States could demonstrate reciprocal good faith by subjecting its own coast guard to these safety rules and encouraging U.S. allies and partners in the region to do the same. … …

Managing Competition, Not Solving It

To be clear, this simple update to existing rules should not be viewed as a Chinese concession to be anxiously bargained over. Numerous Chinese experts have argued that strengthening risk reduction mechanisms and communication channels is critically important for China’s own interests. For dialogues on these mechanisms to be effective, they should focus on operational safety and avoid getting bogged down in grievances over differing legal and policy positions.

In an echo of the Chinese government’s erstwhile bid for a “new type of great power relationship” between China and the United States, Chinese defense officials have sought to cast the dawn of the Biden administration as a “new historical starting point” for Sino-U.S. military relations. Washington will be rightly skeptical of such rhetoric, which rings hollow to U.S. officials familiar with Beijing’s past efforts to “change the soup but not the medicine.” Moving forward, the focus in talks between the two countries must shift to achieving concrete outcomes that diminish the potential for miscalculation. A Sino-U.S. commitment to applying clear mutual safety procedures to all sea forces would be a small step toward building the confidence needed to address larger challenges such as the deployment of new capabilities in military robotics and artificial-intelligence-enabled vessels and weapons systems.

The goals of bilateral maritime risk reduction should not be held hostage to broader U.S.-China disagreements. Like their naval counterparts, coast guards and maritime militias should be subject to clear procedures for safe encounters at sea. Reaching this understanding would be a small but meaningful step toward proving that Beijing and Washington can achieve a manageable equilibrium of “competition without catastrophe.”

***

Ryan Martinson, “Catching Sovereignty Fish: Chinese Fishers in the Southern Spratlys,” Marine PolicyVolume 125 (March 2021): 1–11.

Highlights

  • Each year, close to 200 Chinese fishing vessels operate in disputed space in the southern Spratlys.
  • Chinese government policies play a decisive role in enabling them to operate there safely and profitably.
  • Chinese policymakers see fishing vessels as instruments with which to uphold China’s maritime claims.
  • China provides generous financial incentives (including fuel and other subsidies) to Chinese fishers and invests heavily in maritime law enforcement forces to ensure their security.
  • Guangxi-based maritime militiamen likely operate in the southern Spratlys, but there is little documentary evidence directly connecting them with particular incidents in these waters.

In recent years, Chinese fishers have been involved in a number of incidents in disputed areas of the East and South China Seas. Their presence in contested space is due to a combination of factors, including the individual initiative of private fishing boat owners and state policies that seek to leverage Chinese fishers to achieve political aims. These factors differ depending on the area in question. This article examines the case of Chinese fishing in the southernmost sections of China’s claims in the South China Sea, in waters that fall within the exclusive economic zones of Indonesia and Malaysia. It argues that while most Chinese fishing in these waters is driven by private fishing boat owners pursuing economic gain, the Chinese government has played a decisive role in enabling and supporting their activities. This article also offers evidence that some PRC fishers operate there at the direction of the Chinese military, in their capacity as members of China’s “maritime militia.”

Keywords: South China Sea, Fisheries disputes, Spratly Islands, Chinese marine policy

Introduction

Chinese fishing in disputed waters in the East and South China Seas is a product of individual initiative and state policy. China’s coastal waters are overfished, so Chinese fishers have economic incentives to operate in areas with greater chance for profit. This includes disputed space. For its part, the central government sees value in their presence there. Aside from contributing to the marine economy, Chinese fishing in disputed space upholds China’s claims to sovereignty and jurisdiction in these areas. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) therefore crafts policies to support—and in some cases, direct—the activities of Chinese fishers operating in contested space [1].

Which of these factors—individual initiative or government policy—is the more important driver? It depends on the area in question. This article examines the circumstances of Chinese fishing activities in one particular area, the “southern Spratlys,” defined as Chinese-claimed waters in the South China Sea south of 6 degrees latitude [2].1 It argues that the Chinese government has played a decisive role in enabling and supporting Chinese fishing in these waters. Moreover, this article also offers evidence that some PRC fishers operate there at the direction of the Chinese military, serving as members of China’s maritime militia.

The southern Spratlys merit close examination for two key reasons. First, in recent years these waters have seen a number of fishing incidents involving China and Southeast Asian states, especially Indonesia. There exists an urgent, practical need to better understand the circumstances—policy and otherwise—behind Chinese actions in this area. Second, better understanding of Chinese policies in the southern Spratlys can shed light on Beijing’s South China Sea claims. While the PRC has been very clear that it claims sovereignty over all of the land features within the “nine-dash line,” it has been notoriously vague about the nature and extent of its claimed maritime rights in the vast spaces between these tiny rocks and reefs [3].2 The southern Spratlys are an interesting case because they are largely devoid of land and contain none that could plausibly generate an exclusive economic zone (EEZ). A close examination of Beijing’s policies therefore sheds light on the PRC’s treatment of the nine-dash line as a maritime boundary [4].3

This article comprises six parts. Part one outlines the known facts of Chinese fishing activities in the southern Spratlys. Part two discusses the economic incentives luring Chinese fishers to the southern Spratlys, and the costs and risks associates with pursuing commercial gain in these waters. Part three examines the factors informing Beijing’s policies for Chinese fishing in the southern Spratlys. Parts four, five, and six analyze the three main prongs of its approach. The paper concludes with a summary of key findings. … … …

8. Conclusion

Chinese fishers have operated in the southern Spratlys since the early 1990s. The first expeditions were conducted by vessels from Guangxi’s Beihai city. Beihai fishers continue to dominate Chinese fishing in this area. In 2018, at least 175 Guangxi trawlers operated in these waters, the vast majority from Beihai.

Economic motives are clearly a key driver behind the activities of Guangxi fishers in the southern Spratlys. That is, they go there to catch fish that is unavailable in the same abundance in the Gulf of Tonkin. However, this article shows that government policies have played a decisive role ensuring that these activities are safe and profitable. By implementing robust policy measures, the PRC enables and encourages Guangxi fishers to operate in this highly disputed maritime space.

PRC fisheries policy in the southern Spratlys is largely focused on the political importance of Chinese fishing in these waters. It proceeds from two key beliefs. First, that Chinese fishers have the right to operate in the northern part of the Sunda Shelf because it falls within the nine-dash line. Second, Chinese fishers should operate in the southern Spratlys because their activities serve the political function of upholding China’s claims to maritime rights in these waters. Just by being present there, they demonstrate Chinese sovereignty.

These beliefs drive Beijing’s efforts to support Chinese fishing in these waters. Chinese policymakers heavily subsidize fishing operations in the Spratlys. These subsidies include defraying fixed costs, offsetting fuel costs, and providing other monetary awards to influence the cost-benefit analysis of individual fishing boat owners. Chinese analysts have shown that these incentives are probably the biggest inducements for fishing in the southern Spratlys. Moreover, Chinese policymakers invest huge sums of money to ensure the security of Chinese fishers operating there. They have built dozens of very large law enforcement cutters and charged them with maintaining adequate presence in these waters to deter coastal state EEZ enforcement. Beijing’s efforts have been largely successful: since 2016, Chinese fishing vessels have been able to operate with impunity in the southern Spratlys.

There is some evidence that China’s maritime militia also operates in conjunction with Guangxi’s Spratly fishing fleet. In recent years, Guangxi has invested heavily in the development of maritime militia forces. Boosting the service’s ability to conduct sovereignty operations is a key driver behind these investments. All of the Guangxi ports that host Spratly vessels possess maritime militia units. Moreover, authoritative sources suggest that Guangxi militia vessels perform missions in the Spratlys. Nevertheless, there is no definitive documentary evidence connecting Guangxi militia vessels with individual incidents in these waters. This is not surprising, as China can achieve its current maritime objective without the militia, and if the militia are present they are serving presence and intelligence collection functions, which are generally not newsworthy.

***

Zachary HaverSansha City in China’s South China Sea Strategy: Building a System of Administrative ControlChina Maritime Report 12 (Newport, RI: Naval War College China Maritime Studies Institute, January 2021).

China established Sansha City in 2012 to administer the bulk of its territorial and maritime claims in the South China Sea. Sansha is headquartered on Woody Island. The city’s jurisdiction includes the Paracel Islands, Zhongsha Islands, and Spratly Islands and most of the waters within China’s “nine-dash line.” Sansha is responsible for exercising administrative control, implementing military-civil fusion, and carrying out the day-to-day work of rights defense, stability maintenance, environmental protection, and resource development. Since 2012, each level of the Chinese party-state system has worked to develop Sansha, improving the city’s physical infrastructure and transportation, communications, corporate ecosystem, party-state institutions, and rights defense system. In effect, the city’s development has produced a system of normalized administrative control. This system ultimately allows China to govern contested areas of the South China Sea as if they were Chinese territory.

Key Findings

  • Sansha is responsible for administering China’s maritime and territorial claims in the South China Sea on a day-to-day basis from the front lines of the disputes.
  • Sansha’s physical infrastructure, transportation, communications, economy, party-state institutions, and defense capabilities form a unified system that continuously strengthens the city’s capacity to exercise administrative control over contested areas of the South China Sea.
  • The city uses civilian-administrative means, including maritime law enforcement and maritime militia operations, rather than military force to advance China’s position in the South China Sea disputes.
  • The development of Sansha is gradually civilianizing and institutionalizing China’s efforts to control the South China Sea, providing a mechanism to govern contested areas as if they were Chinese territory.
  • The city’s development aligns closely with China’s broader strategy in the South China Sea, which aims to consolidate China’s claims while deterring other states from strengthening their own claims. This strategy relies on China Coast Guard (CCG) and maritime militia operations backed by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy.
  • Military-civil fusion is the guiding principle of the city’s development, which ensures that all aspects of Sansha’s development ultimately serve China’s sovereignty and security interests.
  • Improvements to Sansha’s physical infrastructure and transportation, including the construction of a smart microgrid on Woody Island, allow Woody Island and other occupied features to accommodate a growing number of military, civilian, and law enforcement personnel and guarantee the continuous operation of important facilities.
  • The development of the city’s communications infrastructure enables local leaders to monitor and govern vast swathes of contested maritime space with ease.
  • Sansha’s leaders have systematically mobilized private and state-owned enterprises in support of nearly every aspect of the city’s daily operations and long-term development.
  • The expansion of the city’s party-state institutions allows municipal authorities to directly govern contested areas of the South China Sea and ensures the primacy of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) interests in local decision-making.
  • To defend China’s maritime rights and interests, the city created Sansha Comprehensive Law Enforcement (SCLE), a maritime law enforcement force, and established a new maritime militia force. Sansha has integrated both forces into its military, law enforcement, and civilian joint defense system. Using these capabilities, local leaders physically assert Sansha’s jurisdiction at the expense of China’s neighbors and coordinate joint operations with the CCG.
  • Sansha’s system of normalized administrative control is currently strongest in the Paracel Islands. Despite the continuing influence of the central bureaucracies, CCG, and PLA, elements of this system also exist in the Spratly Islands and show signs of expanding.

About the Author

Zachary Haver is a Party Watch Initiative Fellow at the Center for Advanced China Research. His research focuses on the South China Sea disputes and Chinese economic statecraft. He has worked on Chinese security and economic issues at SOS International LLC, the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS), the U.S. Naval War College China Maritime Studies Institute, and the Columbia-Harvard China and the World Program. Zachary received his BA in International Affairs from George Washington University. He lived in China for three years, studied Chinese in both Taiwan and China, and is proficient in Mandarin Chinese.

Acknowledgments

The author thanks Isaac Kardon and the rest of the China Maritime Studies Institute team for their encouragement and helpful feedback. Moreover, this project would not have possible without generous support from the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS). Finally, the author thanks Devin Thorne for his valuable contributions.

***

Andrew S. Erickson, interviewed by Harry J. Kazianis, “Advantage At Sea: U.S. Maritime Strategy Focuses On China,” 19FortyFive, 22 December 2020.

Editor’s Note: We recently spoke with Dr. Andrew Erickson, a professor of strategy in the U.S. Naval War College (NWC)’s China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI), to get his take on the newly released U.S. maritime strategy, Advantage at Sea.

First, give us a sense of your overall assessment of the new maritime strategy, Advantage at Sea. What does it do, why does it matter, and how could it shape future naval strategy for the United States?

The tri-service strategy offers a clear vision of the greatest challenges facing the United States and its vital interests, how the U.S. NavyMarine Corps, and Coast Guard can best address them, and the prioritization that will be required to do so. This well-written document is exceptional in its provision of information, substantive analysis, and guidance. It explains how China poses the greatest challenges to American interests of any nation: “the most comprehensive threat to the United States, our allies, and all nations supporting a free and open system.” It explains how America’s Sea Services, front-line witnesses to this sea change, are best placed to address many of those challenges, and why this should be the top priority moving forward.

I could not help but notice the amount of attention is given to China’s maritime militia in the document. Does the new strategy, in your view, pay enough attention to this threat? Do we have the resources needed in the Asia-Pacific considering the size and scope of the threat presented by Beijing in this area?

The strategy concisely explains China’s own tri-service strategy at sea with a laser focus that no previous U.S. government document provided so directly. Through a simple but powerful graph, this latest maritime strategy document offers new data concerning the ultimate expression of Beijing’s own maritime strategy: numbers of ships in service, by service, starting in 2000 and projected out to 2030. This includes a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy that has already trebled in size to as many as ~360 battle force ships today and is forecast to exceed 450 ships a decade hence. It already exceeds U.S. Navy battle force ship numbers, which have not quite reached 300.

The graph shows a China Coast Guard of ~250 ships, for which little further quantitative growth is forecast, but for which substantial qualitative development can be expected. A key area to watch is Coast Guard aviation, which will be greatly enhanced from its current limited state.

Most interestingly, the graph offers the first public U.S. government estimate of ship numbers for China’s People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM). With an increase from virtually zero in 2015 to ~100 today and little further growth projected, this would seem to be the lowest, most strict-constructionist tabulation possible. The relatively low number appears to reflect only the very-most-advanced purpose-built hulls from a small subset of vanguard units: As the Pentagon’s 2020 China Military Power Report documents, the Sansha City Maritime Militia alone by 2016 received “84 large militia vessels with reinforced hulls and ammunition storage.” When one includes the many basic fishing vessels registered in the PAFMM, the total order of battle is in the high hundreds at least. Here, China draws from the world’s largest fishing fleet, which contained approximately 187,211 marine fishing vessels at the end of 2015.

Already, each of China’s three sea services is itself the world’s largest by number of ships. By the Strategy’s graphic calculus, their combined total currently stands at 700 and is projected to exceed 800 by 2030. Both numbers and quality matter, and China is growing considerably in both dimensions at sea.

We can be confident that the battle force numbers calculated for China’s Navy correspond numerically with those for the U.S. Navy battle force. The U.S. Navy is required to count PLA Navy (PLAN) ship numbers strictly according to the criteria listed in SECNAVINST 5030.8C (“General Guidance for the Classification of Naval Vessels and Battle Force Ship Counting Procedures”). It’s the closest to an “apples-to-apples” comparison that one can expect.

While U.S. forces continue to retain formidable qualitative advantages undersea, particularly in blue water and with submarines; in strike warfare; and in anti-air warfare, China has increasing advantages across the board in anti-surface warfare. Worryingly, on a ship-to-ship basis, new advanced PLAN platforms are increasingly closing the “apples-to-apples” gap with their USN counterparts in apparent hardware capabilities: equipment, weapons, and sensors. The U.S. Navy is increasingly banking on the intangibles of personnel, doctrine, tactics, and experience: being able to employ its ships better and to fight better overall. In a surface-to-surface fight, the U.S. Navy would be overmatched in surface-to-surface firepower (i.e., short-range, subsonic Harpoon missiles) against PLAN anti-ship cruise missiles that already have a range advantage, and with the new YJ-12 and YJ-18 also being supersonic. When it comes to Sino-American competition at sea, the strategy document warns starkly, the U.S. Navy is already quantitatively behind China and is rapidly losing qualitative advantages.

Overall, China has deployed far more missiles on land and at sea than has the United States. For some of these systems, reliable long-range targeting far from China’s land-based radars and other C4ISR architecture remains a work in progress. However, for the Near Seas scenarios that matter most to China, it enjoys increasingly robust overlapping sensor coverage. Beijing is rapidly expanding and enhancing its land-, sea-, and air-, and space-based C4ISR platforms. Its South China Sea outposts are making a major contribution. And reconnaissance has been a core PAFMM mission for decades, with many times the ~100 vessels documented in the strategy being potentially available to provide a rudimentary warning function—an extensive capability that would be hard to counter.

At the same time, China’s overall naval capacity is growing by leaps and bounds—especially in new aircraft carriers, nuclear-powered submarines, conventional submarines, and new warships. Does the U.S. Navy have the resources it needs to counter this threat as well, particularly considering that our global footprint is stretched rather thin?

The strategy rightly underscores a key asymmetry: Overall, China’s Sea Forces remain largely regionally focused. Its Maritime Militia is not known to operate outside the “Near Seas”—Yellow, East, and South China Seas—home to all Beijing’s unresolved island/feature and maritime sovereignty claims. Its Coast Guard has vessels capable of global operations, but the majority of its force is regionally deployed. Its Navy increasingly operates around the world, but retains a strong home-region presence, and would certainly be recalled to a dedicated focus on any conflict scenario. In contrast, the U.S. Navy is dispersed across the world’s oceans. In the event of a Near Seas scenario, it could not be fully vectored there at the abandonment of other concerns, let alone the incentives of other rivals to exploit any emergent power vacuum.

As the strategy rightly contends, the U.S. Navy needs additional resources to address rising challenges. Resources need to be provided predictably to support consistent shipbuilding, operations, and maintenance. Recent years of shutdowns, sequestration, continuing resolutions, and other stopgap measures have wreaked havoc on America’s defense industrial base, in which private contractors cannot maximize investment and progress when facing excessive uncertainty. Resource provision, in turn, must be informed by a cohesive strategy. This document offers welcome strategic direction, but its impact remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the two-decade tidal wave of Chinese military shipbuilding that it enumerates has been powered by a consistency of strategy and resources that is in many respects superior to its formidable but floundering American counterpart.

 Looking at some of the pressure points in the Indo-Pacific region like the South and East China Seas as well as the Taiwan Strait, it seems China is attempting to mass enough forces to make any sort of kinetic contest over those bodies of water a tough challenge. Does this new strategy do enough to ensure the United States can support allies and partners in the region if a crisis did erupt with China?

Even if it proves as influential over time as I hope it will be, this strategy will be only one element of what the U.S. and its allies and partners need to “hold the line” in the Near Seas. There, China is amassing a formidable overlapping constellation of capabilities not only at sea, in the form of the tri-service expansion the strategy describes; but also on land, in the form of a potent missile-centric “anti-Navy.”

Beijing has developed quite a range of land-based anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) weapons platforms like the DF-21D and DF-26B anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs). Does this strategy take into account these emerging threats where forces from the land like ballistic, cruise, and now hypersonic weapons could limit U.S. maritime forces’ ability to project power?

The strategy most certainly factors in China’s ASBMs and other A2/AD weapons. There are many ways in which U.S. maritime forces can continue to project power, but they require sufficient resources and sufficient numbers. The strategy makes plain a critical tipping point: given sufficient support, America’s sea services can continue to fully execute all missions with which they are entrusted; but absent such support, they will soon no longer be able to do so effectively where it matters most.

In terms of ship numbers, each of China’s three sea forces is the world’s largest by a large margin. For the scenarios that most concern the U.S. and its regional allies, these numbers matter greatly. This suggests an important conclusion: China’s numerical sea force supremacy and the corresponding need for power projection and presence to counter it effectively demonstrates the need for a substantially increased U.S. Navy. The cost of maintaining sufficient sea power is great, but the cost of not doing so would be devastating—not only to American ideals, but also to interests we have taken for granted since American sea power started helping to continuously secure a peaceful and prosperous postwar order nearly eight decades ago.

In addition to the new tri-service strategy, where can readers find the latest information on China’s sea forces?

This cogent new strategy needs all the support it can get. It comes amid a growing wave of serious booksmonographs, and reports on PRC military maritime issues by specialists at the Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) and elsewhere in the field. Beyond that, for near-real-time information, here are my reading recommendations:

The best coverage of China’s three sea services overall is in the Pentagon’s 2020 report, which has authoritative coverage of the PLAN and a special section on its coordination with the CCG and PAFMM (pp. 69-72). Another encompassing report is the Defense Intelligence Agency’s 2019 China Military Power. For those with an eye for detail, and the ability to zoom in or use a magnifying glass, the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) maintains an exquisite ship Identification Guide, complete with silhouettes and pennant numbers. Even a quick glance is enough to grasp the enormity and variety of China’s oceanic juggernaut. I hope that ONI soon updates its Equipment GuidePLAN Report, and accompanying videos—all excellent but dated 2015.

A formidable book-length counterpart to ONI’s “eye chart” is offered by Modern Chinese Maritime Forces, authored by Manfred Meyer and edited by Larry Bond and Chris Carlson. This unique compendium combines beautiful line diagrams that would impress Edward Tufte with a comprehensive order of battle and technical specifications that would amaze Mahan himself. (Full disclosure: I was so impressed with this quarterly-updated resource that I accepted the editors’ invitation to write the Foreword.)

For China’s Navy, see Library of Congress analyst Ron O’Rourke’s frequently-updated Congressional Research Service (CRS) report on “China’s Naval Modernization.” He offers detailed coverage of PLAN force structure, as well as thoughtful discussion and insights of its relative size and strength. O’Rourke’s report remains the sole public source of U.S. government projections out to 2040. The tri-service strategy only projects numbers out to 2030, possibly because meaningful projections for China’s Coast Guard and Maritime Militia out two decades were not readily available.

For China’s Coast Guard, see O’Rourke’s periodically-updated CRS report on “U.S.-China Strategic Competition in South and East China Seas.” This invaluable reference also compiles content and sources concerning China’s Maritime Militia. The work of my CMSI colleague Ryan Martinson, which I compile here, offers some of the best qualitative insights concerning the world’s largest civil maritime force and its role in China’s maritime strategy.

For China’s Maritime Militia, I maintain an extensive compendium of curated open sources. More than six years into my efforts in this area with Conor Kennedy and other CMSI colleagues such as former Director Peter Dutton, it is sobering that awareness and understanding of this virtually unique force remains so elusive for so many. Fortunately, a new Wikipedia entry on the “People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia” offers an invaluable distillation. I hope that dedicated Wikipedians will build on this foundation by incorporating some of the authoritative PRC and U.S. government sources that I highlight in keyword-searchable format.

Andrew S. Erickson is a professor of strategy in the U.S. Naval War College (NWC)’s China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI). A core founding member, he helped establish CMSI and stand it up officially in 2006, and has played an integral role in its development. CMSI inspired the creation of other research centers, which he has advised and supported; he is a China Aerospace Studies Institute Associate. Erickson is currently a Visiting Scholar in full-time residence at Harvard University’s John King Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, where he has been an Associate in Research since 2008. He blogs at www.andrewerickson.com.

***

Advantage at Sea: Prevailing with Integrated All-Domain Naval Power (Washington, DC: U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Coast Guard, 17 December 2020).

Includes a great graphic showing the very first public estimates of China Maritime Militia ship numbers that I’ve seen (courtesy of the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence)! [The relatively small numbers and their mostly-post-2015 genesis would seem to include only the most advanced hulls; i.e., including the 84 latest ships in the Sansha City Maritime Militia.]

Click here to download a cached copy.

 p. 3

A GLOBAL COMPETITION FOR INFLUENCE

Today, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Russian Federation (RF) employ all instruments of their national power to undermine and remake the international system to serve their own interests. Each conduct a variety of malign activities incrementally, attempting to achieve their objectives without triggering a military response. Both nations back their revisionist activities with regionally powerful militaries and obscure their aggressive behavior by mixing military and paramilitary forces with proxies. China’s and Russia’s attempts to exert control over natural marine resources and restrict access to the oceans have negative repercussions for all nations.

China has implemented a strategy and revisionist approach that aims at the heart of the United States’ maritime power. It seeks to corrode international maritime governance, deny access to traditional logistical hubs, inhibit freedom of the seas, control use of key chokepoints, deter our engagement in regional disputes, and displace the United States as the preferred partner in countries around the world.

To enable its strategy, China deploys a multilayered fleet that includes the People’s Liberation Army Navy, the China Coast Guard, and the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia—naval auxiliaries disguised as civilian vessels—to subvert other nations’ sovereignty and enforce unlawful claims. It continues to militarize disputed features in the South China Sea and assert maritime claims inconsistent with international law. Its state-subsidized distant- water fishing fleet steals vital resources from nations unable to defend their own exclusive economic zones. To support its multilayered fleet, China is also developing the world’s largest missile force, with nuclear capabilities, which is designed to strike U.S. and allied forces in Guam and in the Far East with everything from ballistic missiles to maneuverable cruise and hypersonic missiles. Further, China has centralized its robust strategic, space, cyber, electronic, and psychological warfare capabilities.

With naval forces as the cornerstone of its efforts, China is aggressively growing and modernizing its military. Already commanding the world’s largest naval force, the PRC is building modern surface combatants, submarines, aircraft carriers, fighter jets, amphibious assault ships, ballistic nuclear missile submarines, large coast guard cutters, and polar

p. 4

icebreakers at alarming speed. China’s navy battle force has more than tripled in size in only two decades (Figure 1).

This rapid growth is enabled by a robust shipbuilding infrastructure, including multiple shipyards that exceed those in the United States in both size and throughput. In conflict, excess PRC industrial capacity, including additional commercial shipyards, could quickly be turned toward military production and repair, further increasing China’s ability to generate new military forces.

Whereas U.S. naval forces are globally dispersed, supporting U.S. interests and deterring aggression from multiple threats, China’s numerically larger forces are primarily concentrated in the Western Pacific. However, as China seeks to establish regional hegemony, it is also expanding its global reach. China’s One Belt One Road initiative is extending its overseas logistics and basing infrastructure that will enable its forces to operate farther from its shores than ever before, including the polar regions, Indian Ocean, and Atlantic Ocean. These projects often leverage predatory lending terms that China exploits to control access to key strategic maritime locations. … …

p. 5

In the event of conflict, China and Russia will likely attempt to seize territory before the United States and its allies can mount an effective response—leading to a fait accompli. Each supports this approach through investments in counter-intervention networks. Each seeks to shift the burden of escalation by reinforcing annexed territory with long-range precision-strike weapons and make a military response to an invasion seem disproportionately costly. … …

***

Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Strategic Outlook (Washington, DC: United States Coast Guard, December 2020).

p. 14

Distant Water Fishing Fleets

Distant Water Fishing (DWF) fleets, which conduct fishing activities on an industrial scale in waters far from their home countries, have been closely associated with IUU fishing. These vessels, owned both by individuals and corporate entities, are often subject to weak, negligent, or intentionally complicit management by their flag States. Many DWF fleets are heavily subsidized by their home governments, which can diminish true fishing costs and incentivize unsustainable fishing practices. Predator states can also use DWF fleets to exploit gaps between governance structures and operate in areas where there is little or no effective enforcement presence, deliberately undermining maritime rules-based order.

Some governments have demonstrated a lack of political will to fully acknowledge and address IUU fishing problems in their DWF fleets, selfishly placing their own steady supply of fish above preserving the marine ecosystems, food supplies, and economic stability of other nations. A 2019 Stimson Center research study found that in the past several decades, the practice of DWF has expanded in size and reach across the ocean and around the world. DWF is heavily dominated by just five fleets, which make up 90% of global effort. China and Taiwan represented nearly 60% of all global distant water fishing effort in other countries’ waters from 2015 to 2017. Japan, South Korea, and Spain’s DWF fleets each represented 10%. (The U.S. DWF fleet was the sixth largest and amounted to 1.4% of the global effort.6) The international community, DWF states, coastal nations, and the fishing industry must collectively improve transparency and accountability for DWF fleets while taking necessary steps to safeguard global fisheries for future generations.7

CONCERNS WITH CHINA’S FISHING PRACTICES

The People’s Republic of China has the largest distant water fishing fleet in the world. NOAA’s 2019 biennial IUU Fishing Report to Congress8 identified a troubling expanse of alleged violations by Chinese-flagged fishing vessels, describing multiple instances where they have been found illegally fishing in the EEZs of coastal states around the globe, from the Western and Central Pacific to the coasts of Africa and South America. The 2019 Report also raised concerns over the number of stateless fishing vessels in the Northern Pacific displaying characteristics of Chinese registration. Additionally, the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia, estimated to include more than 3,000 vessels, actively carries out aggressive behavior on the high seas and in sovereign waters of other nations to coerce and intimidate legitimate fishers in support of the Chinese Communist Party’s long term maritime strategic goals.

China must exercise more responsible flag state control over its vessels, including its DWF, and demonstrate that it is taking the necessary steps to ensure compliance with international norms and governance structures. Sovereign nations must be allowed to benefit from their own economic resources. Disregard for this sovereignty and territorial integrity by Chinese and other IUU fishing perpetrators not only threatens the stability of nations who rely on marine resources for food security and economic development, it is a direct violation of international rules-based order.

***

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.

APPENDIX II

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 … … …

VOLUME INFORMATION:

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.

Summary

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.

Reviews

“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

***

Andrew S. Erickson, “Breaking Down the Pentagon’s 2020 China Military Power Report: A Quest for PLA Parity?” The National Interest, 2 September 2020.

Office of the Secretary of Defense, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2020 (Arlington, VA: Department of Defense, 1 September 2020).

p. 29

Militia. The militia is an armed reserve force of civilians available for mobilization. It is distinct from the PLA’s reserve forces. Militia units organize around towns, villages, urban sub-districts, and enterprises and vary widely in composition and mission. The PRC’s 1997 National Defense Law authorizes the militia to assist in maintaining public order. The People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM) is a component of the militia and its tasks include safeguarding maritime claims, which it often performs in conjunction with the PLAN and the CCG.

p. 34

p. 69

INCREASING INTEROPERABILITY WITH PARAMILITARY AND MILITIA

Key Takeaway

  • Interoperability and integration between the PLA and the PRC’s paramilitary forces continues to grow in scale and sophistication, including the coordination between the PLAN, the CCG, and the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM).

People’s Armed Police (PAP). The PAP is a paramilitary police component of the PRC’s armed forces and an armed wing of the CCP. Its primary missions include internal security, maritime security, and assisting the PLA in times of war. In early 2018, the CMC assumed direct control of the PAP after the CCP ended the previous CMC-State Council dual-command system. As part of this reform, the PAP also assumed control of the China Coast Guard (CCG) in July 2018 from the PRC’s State Oceanic Administration. In addition to these changes, the PAP has undergone a comprehensive reorganization and shed missions and some specialized forces for border defense, firefighting, natural resource protection (forests, gold mines, and hydropower), allowing the PAP to focus more on internal security. The PAP is comprised principally of the Mobile Corps, the Internal Security Corps, and the CCG. …

p. 70

China’s Coercive Approach

China’s leaders use tactics short of armed conflict to pursue China’s objectives. China calibrates its coercive activities to fall below the threshold of provoking armed conflict with the United States, its allies and partners, or others in the Indo-Pacific region. These tactics are particularly evident in China’s pursuit of its territorial and maritime claims in the South and East China Seas as well as along its border with India and Bhutan.1 In recent years, the PLA has also increased patrols around and near Taiwan using bomber, fighter, and surveillance aircraft to signal Taiwan. China also employs nonmilitary tools coercively, including economic tools during periods of political tensions with countries that China accuses of harming its national interests.

China Coast Guard (CCG). The CCG is subordinate to the PAP and is responsible for a wide range of missions under the umbrella of maritime rights protection, including enforcement of the PRC’s sovereignty claims, surveillance, protection of fisheries’ resources, anti-smuggling, and general law enforcement. In July 2018, the CCG completed its merger into the CMC command structure through its subordination to the PAP, which itself is under the CMC like the PLA. This could facilitate closer coordination between the CCG and the PLAN. The PRC primarily uses paramilitary maritime law

p. 71

enforcement agencies in maritime disputes, selectively using the PLAN to provide overwatch in case of escalation.

The CCG’s rapid expansion and modernization has improved China’s ability to enforce its maritime claims. Since 2010, the CCG’s fleet of large patrol ships (more than 1,000 tons) has more than doubled from approximately 60 to more than 130 ships, making it by far the largest coast guard force in the world and increasing its capacity to conduct simultaneous, extended offshore operations in multiple disputed areas. Furthermore, the newer ships are substantially larger and more capable than the older ships, and the majority are equipped with helicopter facilities, high-capacity water cannons, and guns ranging from 30 mm to 76 mm. A number of these ships are capable of long-endurance and out-of-area operations. These characteristics give CCG vessels the ability to intimidate local, non-PRC fishing boats, as occurred in an October 2016 incident near Scarborough Reef.

In addition, the CCG operates more than 70 fast patrol combatants (more than 500 tons), which can be used for limited offshore operations, more than 400 coastal patrol craft, and approximately 1,000 inshore and riverine patrol boats. The CCG is likely to add another 25-30 patrol ships and patrol combatants by the end of the decade before the construction program levels off.

People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM).

The PAFMM is a subset of China’s national militia, an armed reserve force of civilians available for mobilization. Militia units organize around towns, villages, urban sub-districts, and enterprises, and vary widely in composition and mission. In the South China Sea, the PAFMM plays a major role in coercive activities to achieve the PRC’s political goals without fighting, part of broader Chinese military theory that sees confrontational operations short of war as an effective means of accomplishing political objectives. The militia has played significant roles in a number of military campaigns and coercive incidents over the years, including the 2009 harassment of USNS Impeccable conducting normal operations, the 2012 Scarborough Reef standoff, the 2014 Haiyang Shiyou-981 oilrig standoff, and a large incursion in waters near the Senkakus in 2016.

A large number of PAFMM vessels train with and assist the PLAN and CCG in tasks such as safeguarding maritime claims, surveillance and reconnaissance, fisheries protection, logistic support, and search and rescue. The government subsidizes various local and provincial commercial organizations to operate militia vessels to perform “official” missions on an ad hoc basis outside of their regular civilian commercial activities.

The PAFMM often rents fishing vessels from companies or individual fishermen. However, China has also built a state-owned fishing fleet for at least part of its “maritime militia” in the South China

p. 72

Sea. The Hainan provincial government, adjacent to the South China Sea, ordered the building of 84 large militia fishing vessels with reinforced hulls and ammunition storage, which the militia received by the end of 2016, along with extensive subsidies to encourage frequent operations in the Spratly Islands. This particular PAFMM unit is also China’s most professional. Its forces are paid salaries independent of any clear commercial fishing responsibilities and recruited from recently separated veterans.

p. 95

EASTERN THEATER COMMAND

Key Takeaway

  • The Eastern Theater Command is oriented toward Taiwan and the East China Sea.

The Eastern Theater Command likely executes operational control over national defense matters related to Taiwan and Japan, including contingencies in and around the Taiwan Strait and the Senkaku Islands. In 2019, the Eastern Theater Command focused on a series of training and exercises to improve joint operations and combat readiness, organizing exercises and drills consisting of longdistance training and mobilization, aerial combat, and live-fire training. PLA units located within the Eastern Theater Command include three group armies, a naval fleet, two marine brigades, two Air Force bases, and one missile base. The Eastern Theater Command also likely commands all China Coast Guard (CCG) and maritime militia ships while conducting Senkakus-related operations.

p. 99

SOUTHERN THEATER COMMAND

Key Takeaway

  • The Southern Theater Command is oriented toward the South China Sea, Southeast Asia border security, and territorial and maritime disputes.

The area of responsibility of the Southern Theater Command covers mainland and maritime Southeast Asia, including the South China Sea. This geographic area implies that the Southern Theater Command is responsible for securing the South China Sea, supporting the Eastern Theater Command in any invasion of Taiwan, responding to territorial disputes, and assuring the security of sea lines of communication (SLOCs) seen as vital to China’s global ambitions. PLA units located within the Southern Theater Command are two group armies, a naval fleet, two marine brigades, two Air Force bases, and two Rocket Force bases. The Southern Theater Command is responsible for responding to U.S. freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, and likely commands all CCG and maritime militia ships conducting operations within China’s claimed “nine-dash line.”

p. 165

Taiwan Strait Military Balance, Naval Forces

Note: In the event of a major Taiwan conflict, the PLA’s Eastern and Southern Theater Navies would participate in direct action against the Taiwan Navy. The Northern Theater Navy (not shown) would be responsible primarily for protecting the sea approaches to China, but could provide mission-critical assets to support the other fleets. In conflict, China may also employ China Coast Guard (CCG) and People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM) ships to support military operations.

***

 

 

 

Alice DU Liangliang, “The Sino-British Maritime Frontier, 1950–1957,” in Mary Ann O’Donnell, Jonathan Bach, and Denise Y. Ho, eds., “Forum: Transformation of Shen Kong Borderlands,” Made in China 3 (September–December 2020): 102–07.

The area that is today known as the Pearl River Delta in fact comprises two deltas, which were historically referred to as the Pearl River and the Lingding Sea. The Pearl River is formed by the confluence of three rivers, the West, North, and East. It runs through the city of Guangzhou and discharges at Humen, the Bocca Tigris. The Lingding Sea extends from the mouth of the Pearl River through the corridor between Macau and Hong Kong and ends (more or less) near Outer Lingding Island in the Wanshan Archipelago (Zong et al. 2009). Westerners may have heard of the Lingding Sea indirectly through ‘Lintin Island’, the common name for Inner Lingding Island (内伶仃岛), which historically marked the gateway to Guangzhou from the South China Sea. In Chinese, the Lingding Sea was made famous in the poem ‘Crossing Lingding Sea’ by the Song loyalist Wen Tianxiang. The poem imaginatively recounts the flight of the boy emperor Zhao Bing (r.1278–79) from Lin’an (present-day Hangzhou) to Yamen. The poem’s pathos is figured by the Song’s defeat at Yamen, where, despite being outnumbered 10 to one, the Yuan navy won a decisive maritime battle, ending the Song dynasty. However, the two landmarks in the poem, Huangkong Shoals and the Lingding Sea, are what suggest how northern armies experienced southern landscapes at the end of the thirteenth century. Huangkong Shoals translates as ‘Terror Shoals’—a reference to a famously difficult passage on the Gan River in Jiangxi Province. Lingding Sea means ‘Lonely Sea’, referring to the vast and underpopulated edges of the empire.

Five hundred years later, the Lonely Sea was no longer an underpopulated frontier. Instead, pirates, privateers, and foreign navies were competing to seize control of the gateway to Guangzhou. Coastal villages and towns occupied both coasts of the Lingding Sea, while islands and bays had been claimed by smaller groups of fishermen and boat-dwellers, who were pejoratively known as Tanka (疍家). Living at the edge of agrarian society, these water-dwellers nevertheless controlled local waters and earned their living working for the highest bidder (Antony 2016). The 1898 Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory made maritime borders explicit; the United Kingdom did not simply lease territory from the Qing, but also (and more importantly) secured maritime access to Guangzhou. The convention did not, however, change the status of coastal, island, and water-dwellers, who were granted traditional water rights. During the war against Japan (1937–45) and the Civil War (1945–49) in southern China, the allied forces of the Kuomintang (KMT) and the United States relied on local water-dwellers to obtain intelligence and supply arms via ports in Hong Kong and Macau (Hou 2019).

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rose to power on the strength of its ground forces, only forming the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in May 1950, a month before the Korean War broke out. Unsurprisingly, the joint navies of the United States and KMT easily embargoed coastal China. Knowing that ground forces could not hold the coastline, Mao Zedong instructed People’s Liberation Army (PLA) leaders:

The army must leave the coastline, stay in appropriate places to conveniently annihilate the enemy … They should train rather than guard the coastline. It is the responsibility of security teams and local armed forces to monitor spies and kill bandits. Many Communists, after fighting for more than 20 years, have suddenly forgotten their experience, building fortifications everywhere [because] they fear the enemy like tigers. (Hou 2019: 248)

Instead, another strategy—one based on CCP experience in guerilla warfare and local organising—was necessary if the CCP was to wrest control of Chinese coastal waters from the United States and the KMT. Over the next few years, the CCP would rely on its experience of land reform (in 1950–52) and the campaign to suppress counterrevolutionaries (December 1950– October 1951) to integrate water-dwellers into its maritime defence strategy, just as peasants had been integrated into its ground war strategy. This entailed resettling water-dwellers, while blockading Hong Kong via the islands of the Wanshan Archipelago. In turn, the consolidation of the coastal frontier occurred via the transplanted fishermen and islanders. Their bodies, settlements, and labour made the Sino-British border visible, asserting Chinese claims to the coastline.

The story of Fishing One Village (渔一村) highlights how these larger processes not only transformed the cultural geography of the Lingding Sea, but also laid the foundation for the establishment of the China Merchants Shekou Industrial Zone in 1979. On the one hand, through the stories of Fishing One, we see how the so-called democratic fishing reform (alternatively known as 渔民民主改革 or 渔业 民主改革) reshaped the cultural geography of the Lingding Sea. Previously, mobile ‘fishing despots’ (渔霸) had patrolled the water, but, after the fishing reform, boat-dwellers could no longer freely sail the seas. Instead, they worked out of fixed ‘fishermen villages’ (渔村), which the state could mobilise as necessary, effectively landlocking water-dwellers without giving them full status onshore. On the other hand, these stories also highlight how the region’s fluid borders were first consolidated through revolutionary methods. Once the borders were secured, later development of the coast became feasible precisely because the coastline was de facto located within Chinese—and not British—territory. When Yuan Geng decided to establish the China Merchants Shekou Industrial Zone, for example, the port, industrial park, and its factories not only incorporated the coastline from the high-tide mark, but also extended the coastline through land reclamation into what (at the time) were acknowledged to be British waters.

Reorganising the Lingding Sea

In 1949, the Central Committee of the CCP entrusted the task of securing China’s southern coast to Ye Jianying, head of the South China Branch Bureau. The situation was daunting. More than one million people, including boat-dwellers, inhabited the coastal waters of Guangdong Province. Historically, these people had formed groups based on language and labour, enjoying relative autonomy from state oversight. Fishing reform in coastal waters (1951–54) and policy consolidation during the following three years (1955–57) allowed the CCP to occupy the southern coastline, pushing back against the historical frontier. The organisation of fishermen and territory was contemporaneous with the Socialist Transformation Movement (December 1951 to the end of 1956). Drawing on the ideas of the Agricultural Cooperative Movement, the Bao’an County Government encouraged fishermen to come ashore, aiming to enclose them within prescribed boundaries that simultaneously secured the coastline and improved the lives of the poorest fishermen. Once the fishermen were onshore, the government set up mutual aid groups, which were the embryonic form of fishermen’s villages (渔民村).

In 1950, the leading organisation in Bao’an County was the Shashenbao branch of the Guangdong Military Administrative Commission (广东军事管理委员会沙深宝分 会), with Qi Feng as director. There was debate over whether islands should be administered by the Bao’an Government or by the Military Commission. Ma Lun, the Bao’an County Secretary, for example, maintained that the Bao’an County Government should only administer the territory within its land borders, while the management of waters and islands fell under the purview of the Shashenbao Committee. As a result, local fishermen’s groups were not placed within the Bao’an County Government (as Qi Feng had hoped), but within the Island Administration Bureau. The two fishermen’s groups in Bao’an County became the East Island and West Island offices, corresponding to the county’s eastern and western coasts. That year, there were about 600 people living on Inner Neilingding Island, including more than 120 fishermen. Due to military necessity, the PLA was stationed on the island and the islanders were relocated to Shekou and Xixiang.

In January 1951, Guangdong Province set up the Pearl River District Commission Office, Island Administration Bureau, and Post Reform Management Office (珠江区专员公署海岛管理局后改管理处). Responsibility for organising fishermen’s work was transferred from the Shashenbao Border Committee to the Island Administration Bureau. Jurisdiction over Inner Lingding Island, the islands of the Wanshan Archipelago and coastal islands from Zhongshan, Dongguan, and Bao’an counties was transferred to the new bureau. The Island Administration Bureau’s office was set up in Tangjiawan, Zhuhai (珠海唐家湾), a coastal subdistrict (乡) in Zhongshan County. In practice, this meant that, although Inner Lingding Island fishermen had been resettled in Bao’an and their cadres were considered part of the Bao’an Government, they were nevertheless to make annual trips to Zhuhai to report on their work.

The reorganisation of previously scattered islands under one administrative entity was an important step to organise fishermen. Zhou Enlai, first premier of the People’s Republic of China, and Liao Chengzhi, the Hong Kong–based official in charge of the United Front and overseas Chinese, asked the relevant departments to help fishermen establish their homes on land. Once ashore, fishermen could be assigned a political identity, land resources, and finally be organised into villages, which was the most basic unit of rural administration. To this end, the Fishermen’s Association Committee (渔民协会委员会) was established in 1951. Status in the Fishermen’s Association was based on physical residence. Fishing families with a fixed residence on land were defined as ‘fishermen’ (渔民) and would ultimately receive hukou (户口; ‘household registration’) based on that settlement. Fishing families who had no fixed residence on land and travelled between harbours in Bao’an, Hong Kong, and Macau were defined as ‘itinerant fishermen’ (流动渔民), ultimately receiving identity cards in Hong Kong. The organisation of fishermen was also a mobilisation of resources. The local Party committee established a democratic reform committee, which worked with local cadres to organise a work team to develop and train activists among fishermen, teaching them to distinguish between the ‘enemy and ourselves’ (敌我问题). In the first stage of the fishermen’s democratic reform (1951–52), local political groups dealt with the smuggling of intelligence and weapons to the United States, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

In July 1952, during the second phase of the fishermen’s democratic reform, the Island Administration Committee transferred the governance of islands to Zhongshan County—an administrative shift from party to government. This shift emphasised location (rather than a specific mission) as the principle for governance. On this basis, on 19 November 1952, the CCP Central Committee issued a set of ‘Instructions on Fishermen’s Work’, stating: ‘Coastal fishermen should also divide fishermen’s counties and districts according to their fishing areas, with a port as the centre’ (Chen 2019: 100). According to the relevant materials, the boundaries of the fishermen’s county referred to the southern Lingding Sea and included most of the islands therein. The new county would be called Zhuhai, with its county seat at Tangjiawan. In July 1953, Bao’an County designated West Sea, East Sea, Nantou, and Yantian as pilot areas to carry out the local fishermen’s democratic reform. Significantly, fishing areas crossed the maritime border. The West Sea, for example, included waters near Shekou and islands in the Wanshan Archipelago, as well as near Tsing Shan, Tuen Mun, on the northeastern coast of the Hong Kong New Territories. Similarly, East Sea waters included those near Yantian and Yazhou Bay as well as near Sai Kung on the northeastern coast of the New Territories. At this time, Bao’an County became responsible for the fishermen who had been relocated from Inner Lingding and Dachan islands to Shekou and Xixiang. This was the first appearance of ‘Shekou’ among Chinese administrative placenames.

From 1953 through to 1954, local Party representatives organised fishermen through campaigns in democratic struggle, democratic unity, and democratic construction. Fishermen were also encouraged to join the fishing trade union, the Fishing Association, the Communist Youth League, militia, and other organisations. Organisers united fishermen according to the logic under which peasants had been united, encouraging better-off fishermen to employ poor fishermen. Although fishermen could not be classified as ‘poor’ or ‘middle-income’ based on how many tools they owned (as was the criteria for classifying peasants), some fishermen owned boats and others did not. Fishermen with boats could work alone or were encouraged to employ one or two people. During the 1954 fishery cooperative movement (渔业合作化运动), whether or not one maintained ‘fisherman’ or ‘floating fisherman’ status was based on joining the cooperative and the sharing of boats. Most residents in the Shekou area, for example, joined friends and family in the fishing cooperative, while those who chose not to join became itinerant fishermen, taking up residence in bays along the coasts of Hong Kong and Macau. In contrast to the West Sea area, there were more floating fishermen in Mirs Bay in the East Sea area.

The differences between fishermen and itinerant fishermen were not immediately consolidated but were settled over the course of the decade. Shekou, for example, is home to two fishing villages, the aforementioned Fishing One and Fishing Two (渔二村). The root of Fishing One was the Inner Lingding Island mutual aid group. Fishermen Wu Jindi, Zhou Dezai, and several others who had lived on Inner Lingding Island and owned houseboats (罟仔艇 or Kwu Tzu boats) became core members of the Inner Lingding Island mutual aid group after their relocation to Shekou. Their status allowed them to receive interest-free or low-interest loans from the Bao’an County Government to update their fishing equipment. Funds were also used to set up marketing cooperatives to help these fishermen sell their products. By 1954, cooperation and a guaranteed market meant that organised fishermen could expand their enterprises. In contrast, activist Zhang Meitou set up Bao’an County’s first fishery production cooperative in Shekou with resettled boat-dwellers. With government help, the cooperative purchased new fishing equipment and began deep-sea fishing. However, unlike Fishing One, which comprised members from the same linguistic group and a shared home island, fishing cooperative members came from Haifeng and Panyu. Due to the differences in customs and languages, the cooperative dissolved in less than two years. Some of the Teochew-speaking fishermen opted to return to Haifeng and become farmers, while some of the Cantonese-speaking fishermen moved to Hong Kong, becoming itinerant fishermen. In fact, it was not until 1957 that the cooperative was successfully reorganised as Fishing Two Village (Shekou Museum of Reform and Opening Up 2019).

Onshore but Not of the Land

Although islanders, fishermen, and boat-dwellers were assigned ‘villager’ status, they did not enjoy the same treatment and historical rights as farmers. Specifically, while farmers continued to have rights to cultivated land and housing plots via collectives that were based on historical settlements, fishermen lost their historical rights once they were relocated. In Shekou, for example, islanders were given berths only at local typhoon shelter wharfs and were not permitted to build housing on land. The question of where Inner Lingding Islanders were entitled to land arose because their jurisdiction had not been settled. In 1952, when Zhuhai was split from Zhongshan and redistricted as the fishermen’s county, it was given jurisdiction over Inner Lingding Island. However, islanders were already residents of the Shekou and Xixiang areas of Bao’an County since their resettlement in 1950. Neither Zhuhai nor Bao’an was willing to take responsibility for giving the islanders onshore plots. In Shekou, the islanders’ housing situation was only resolved in 1970, when Shekou Commune allocated a section of coastal land belonging to Wanxia Village (湾厦村) to the islanders. In Xixiang, those who came on land did not remain ‘fishermen’. Instead, housing plots were created through reclamation of coastal fishponds and polders, which were known as jiwei (基围). Islanders, fishermen, and boat-dwellers on the western Bao’an coast (from Xixiang to Shajing) who received these plots became ‘jiwei people’, living in shacks at the edges of landed villages. The main livelihood of jiwei villagers was raising fish, shrimp, and crab in coastal polders. As land reform deepened, jiwei people were divided into village units; however, because they did not have a traditional land residence, these new villages were given revolutionary names, including Turn Over (翻身村), Labour (劳动村), Freedom (自由村), Settled Happily (安乐村), Peace (和平村), Happy Together (共 乐村), and Democracy (民主村) villages.

In 1979, China Merchants established the Shekou Industrial Zone, which was set up for logistics and basic manufacturing. The new entity inherited not only the reorganised coastline, but also the rights to plan and develop it. Fishing One Village took advantage of Reform and Opening Up to pursue private enterprise, including selling seafood in Hong Kong and Shekou. That same year, Inner Lingding Island was reassigned to Shenzhen City. In 1989, based on its historical relationship with Inner Lingding Island, Fishing One raised 13 million yuan and borrowed 9 million yuan to invest in the construction of a resort on the island (Shekou Museum of Reform and Opening Up 2019). However, due to the unclear jurisdiction, there were frequent conflicts among Zhuhai, Shenzhen, and Fishing One over what residual rights villagers had. During a provincial survey meeting in 1993, Fishing One’s head, Zhou Dezai, angrily exclaimed: ‘We were born and raised in Bao’an for generations, and all of a sudden we have become Zhuhai people. What is the basis of this claim? I’ll die with eternal regrets’ (Shekou Museum of Reform and Opening Up 2019). His words proved prophetic and he died soon after. Unfortunately, it was not until his death that the Guangdong Provincial Government made greater efforts to clarify administrative oversight over Inner Lingding Island. It did not, however, return the islanders’ native holdings and the resort project was ultimately abandoned. 

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Christian Vicedo, “China’s PAFMM Grey Zone Maritime Challenge to the Philippines,” East Asia Forum, 13 August 2020.

China’s People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM) is key to understanding Beijing’s grey-zone operations in the South China Sea (SCS). The PAFMM is organised and linked to the People’s Liberation Army chain of command through the People’s Armed Forces Districts. PAFMM members are trained in maritime claims enforcementlogistics supportintelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and sabotage. Operating about 84 large vessels with reinforced hulls and water cannons, the PAFMM serves as China’s third force in the SCS.

The Philippines currently occupies nine features in the SCS. But through its PAFMM, China can prevent the Philippines from exercising sovereignty within and surrounding these features. Given precedents such as the seizure of the Paracels in 1974 and the occupation of Mischief Reef in 1995, the PAFMM may be employed to seize any of the Philippine-occupied features and to construct artificial islands and facilities on them. … … …

***

David R. Stilwell, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, “The South China Sea, Southeast Asia’s Patrimony, And Everybody’s Own Backyard,” Remarks at Center for Strategic and International Studies (Virtual), 14 July 2020.

Remarks as prepared

INTRODUCTION

Thank you, Greg. I’m honored to join you. I commend CSIS for regularly convening leading thinkers on the Indo-Pacific and on the South China Sea in particular. Your work is an invaluable resource to us all.

This is a timely and important discussion. In recent months, while the world has focused on the fight against COVID-19, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has doubled-down on its campaign to impose an order of “might makes right” in the South China Sea. Beijing is working to undermine the sovereign rights of other coastal states and deny them access to offshore resources – resources that belong to those states, not to China. Beijing wants dominion for itself. It wants to replace international law with rule by threats and coercion.

In recent months, Beijing has sunk Vietnamese fishing vessels, sent an armed flotilla to harass Malaysian offshore energy exploration, and wielded maritime militia to surround Philippine outpostsBeijing has further militarized its artificial islands in the Spratlys with new aircraft deployments. It has announced unilateral fishing bans. It has conducted destabilizing military exercises in contested waters around disputed features. And it increasingly uses its artificial islands as bases for harassment operations – to curtail access of Southeast Asian coastal states to offshore oil, gas and fisheries.

We all know why this matters. By claiming “indisputable sovereignty” over an area larger than the Mediterranean and trampling the rights of others, Beijing threatens the existing order that has given Asia decades of prosperity. That order has been based on freedom and openness, ideas that Beijing opposes.

Nearly $4 trillion in trade transits the South China Sea each year. More than $1 trillion of that is linked to the U.S. market. The sea is home to an estimated $2.6 trillion in recoverable offshore oil and gas. It also has some of the world’s richest fishing grounds that employ an estimated 3.7 million people in coastal Southeast Asian states.

These resources are the birthright of Southeast Asian nations, the lifeblood of their coastal communities, and the livelihood of millions of their citizens. They are the inheritance of each nation’s children and grandchildren. Beijing’s behavior is an assault on the people of Southeast Asia today, and from generation to generation.

ANNIVERSARY OF TRIBUNAL RULING

This week marks the anniversary of a historic statement on international law in the South China Sea: the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal ruling.

This case of peaceful arbitration was brought – with real courage – by the Philippines. And the verdict was unanimous: Beijing’s Nine-Dash line maritime claim has no basis in international law. The tribunal sided squarely with the Philippines on the bulk of its legal claims.

Beijing has since tried to delegitimize and ignore the verdict, despite its obligations to abide by it as a party to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Beijing likes to present itself as a champion of multilateralism and international institutions, but it has dismissed the verdict as “nothing more than a piece of paper.”

Only the gullible or the co-opted can still credit Beijing’s pretense of good global citizenship. Today we are hearing more and more voices raised against Beijing’s aggressiveness and unilateralism.

We welcome the clear insistence last month by Leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that South China Sea disputes should be resolved on the basis of international law, including UNCLOS.

The wider world is also speaking up and taking action, in recognition that Beijing’s actions pose the greatest threat to freedom of the seas anywhere on the planet. South China Sea issues have direct bearing on the future of the Arctic, the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean, and other vital waterways. What is at stake in the South China Sea has a direct impact on every nation and person who relies on freedom of the seas and the free movement of maritime commerce to ensure their nation’s prosperity.

U.S. POLICY IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA

The United States has strengthened our own approach to the South China Sea.

Our policy is to champion a free and open Indo-Pacific in which all the region’s diverse nations can live and prosper in peace. Our policy appreciates the diversity of those nations. It defends sovereignty, independence, and pluralism. A free and open Indo-Pacific means a region where countries are secure in their sovereignty and equal in their shared use of the global commons. No hegemonic power dominates others or turns international waters into a zone of exclusion.

Our approach builds on America’s long record in the Pacific of preserving the peace, upholding freedom of the seas in line with international law, maintaining the unimpeded flow of commerce, and supporting peaceful settlement of disputes. These are important and abiding interests we share with our many allies and partners.

In recent years we have deepened our collaboration across the region. We have increased our maritime capacity-building support for Southeast Asian partners, reaffirmed alliances, and maintained a robust tempo of military activities to keep the peace. These include freedom-of-navigation operations, including five in the South China Sea so far this year; presence operations, including dual-carrier operations earlier this month; strategic bomber patrols; and combined operations and exercises with our allies and partners.

The United States continues to be the largest source of commercial investment in the region, by far. Our nearly $300 billion in annual trade in goods and services with the 650 million people of ASEAN help ensure the growing prosperity of that dynamic region. ASEAN nations now produce almost $3 trillion of annual GDP. Living standards have improved tremendously, thanks to ASEAN’s incredible energy, and a global system that has long sustained stability, security, and prosperity.

Yesterday, Secretary Pompeo announced an important step to strengthen our policy, and to stand firmly with our Southeast Asian partners in defense of their sovereign rights. The Secretary issued a statement of policy on maritime claims in the South China Sea, on the occasion of the anniversary of the 2016 tribunal ruling. Since that ruling, we have said that it is “final and legally binding” on both parties, China and the Philippines. This announcement goes further, to make clear: The PRC has no right to bully Southeast Asian states for their offshore resources.

Specifically, Secretary Pompeo said three main things:

First, the PRC has no lawful maritime claim vis-a-vis the Philippines over waters determined by the Tribunal to be in the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) or on its continental shelf. Within those areas, Beijing’s harassment of Philippine fisheries and offshore energy development is unlawful, as are any unilateral PRC actions to exploit those resources. Nor does the PRC have a legal claim to Mischief Reef or Second Thomas Shoal, both of which are under Philippines jurisdiction.

Second, because Beijing has failed to put forth a lawful, coherent maritime claim in the South China Sea, the United States rejects any PRC claim to waters beyond a 12 nautical mile territorial sea derived from islands it claims in the Spratly Islands. This means that the United States rejects any PRC maritime claim in the waters surrounding Vanguard Bank (off Vietnam), Luconia Shoals (off Malaysia), Natuna Besar (off Indonesia), or in the waters of Brunei’s EEZ. Any PRC action to harass other states’ fishing or hydrocarbon development — or to unilaterally carry out such activities on its own – is unlawful. Period.

Third, the PRC has no lawful territorial or maritime claim to James Shoal, off Malaysia. This one deserves a moment of study. James Shoal is a submerged feature on the sea floor some 20 meters beneath the surface. It is also only 50 nautical miles from Malaysia – and over 1,000 nautical miles from the Chinese mainland. Yet Beijing claims it as the “southernmost point of China”! The claim is absurd – appearing to derive from an erroneous old British atlas and a subsequent translation error, suggesting the underwater shoal was actually a sandbank above the waves. But it isn’t. And yet Beijing’s propaganda touts James Shoal as PRC territory and PLA Navy ships deploy there to stage ostentatious oath-swearing ceremonies. International law is clear: An underwater feature gives no rights. James Shoal is not and never was Chinese territory, nor can Beijing assert any lawful maritime rights from such spurious claims.

In all these cases, the United States stands with our Southeast Asian allies and partners in upholding their sovereign rights, and with all the rest of the law-abiding world in defending the freedom of the seas. As the Secretary has said, the world cannot – and will not – allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire.

BEIJING’S PLAYBOOK

Let me briefly raise four other important aspects of the South China Sea issue: (1) the role of Beijing’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs); (2) the negotiations between China and ASEAN over a Code of Conduct; (3) Beijing’s push for “joint development” of Southeast Asian resources; and (4) Beijing’s campaign for a seat on the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).

First, on state-owned enterprises: In the South China Sea, as elsewhere, Beijing has used state-owned enterprises as tools of economic coercion and international abuse.

They have been used to dredge, construct, and militarize the PRC’s artificial island fortresses in the Spratlys, from which Beijing now violates the exclusive economic zones of Southeast Asian states. One of Beijing’s leading infrastructure contractors that works all around the world – China Construction & Communications Corporation, or CCCC – led the dredging for Beijing’s South China Sea military bases, with terribly destructive effects on the marine environment and regional stability.

State-owned enterprises have been used as battering rams to attempt to enforce Beijing’s unlawful “Nine Dashed Line.” China National Offshore Oil Corporation, or CNOOC, used its mammoth survey rig HD-981 to try intimidating Vietnam off the Paracel islands in 2014. It is telling that CNOOC’s chief executive touted that oil rig as “mobile national territory.” The implications of such a statement should give pause to every nation that relies on the freedom of the seas for prosperity and security.

Other PRC commercial survey ships and rigs have been sent repeatedly into Southeast Asian waters in which China has no rights. Numerous PRC state-owned tourism, telecom, fisheries and banking firms invest in ways to enable Beijing’s unlawful claims and bullying. PRC fishing fleets in the South China Sea often operate as maritime militia under the direction of  China’s military, harassing and intimidating others as a tool of violent state coercion.

These state-owned enterprises are PRC instruments of abuse, and we should highlight their improper behavior. We should also shine light on how these companies operate around the world, including across Southeast Asia and in the United States. In all our societies, citizens deserve to know the differences between commercial enterprises and instruments of foreign state power. These state enterprises are modern-day equivalents of the East India Company.

Second, on Code of Conduct talks: There are clear red flags about Beijing’s intentions. For years Beijing has insisted that ASEAN states keep silent on the proceedings. Press reports have shown why: Behind closed doors, the PRC has pushed ASEAN states to accept limits on core matters of national interest.

These include limits on who ASEAN states can partner with for military exercises and offshore oil and gas work. Beijing is also pressuring ASEAN nations to cut ties with “outside” states and to dilute references to international law. These are demands of a bully, not a friendly neighbor. Beijing may have backed off its arbitrary 2021 deadline for concluding the talks, but its hegemonic goals remain.

U.S. interests are clearly at stake in the Code of Conduct process, as are those of all states who value freedom of the seas. A Code of Conduct that in any way legitimates Beijing’s reclamation, militarization, or unlawful maritime claims would be severely damaging, and unacceptable for many nations. We urge greater transparency in the Code of Conduct process to ensure a positive outcome that is fully consistent with the principles enshrined in the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Third, on “joint development” deals: The PRC seeks to dominate the South China Sea’s oil and gas resources. To achieve this, Beijing is pursuing a campaign to deny Southeast Asian states access to desperately needed oil and gas resources except through “joint development” deals that disadvantage the smaller parties – that is, the non-Chinese parties.

The PRC gambit works like this. By aggressively deploying military forces, maritime militia, state-directed oil rigs and the like, Beijing tries to drive up risk for energy firms that want to operate in the South China Sea, in hopes of pushing out foreign competition. Once accomplished, Beijing pushes other states to accept “joint development” with its own state-owned firms, saying “if you want to develop those resources off your coast, your only option is to do so with us.” These are gangster tactics.

The United States supports nations in standing up for their sovereign rights and interests, and in resisting pressure to accept any deal whereby the PRC pushes its way into a share of offshore resources it has no right to claim.

Fourth, on the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea: Beijing is running an uncontested candidate for a judge’s position on this tribunal at an election currently slated for late August/early September.

Like the Arbitral Tribunal that ruled against Beijing in 2016, the International Tribunal is established under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. Electing a PRC official to this body is like hiring an arsonist to help run the Fire Department.

We urge all countries involved in the upcoming International Tribunal election to carefully assess the credentials of the PRC candidate and consider whether a PRC judge on the Tribunal will help or hinder international maritime law. Given Beijing’s record, the answer should be clear.

THE GLOBAL SCOURGE OF PRC BULLYING

There are lessons here that apply well beyond the Western Pacific. When Beijing uses coercion, empty promises, disinformation, contempt for rules, bad-faith diplomacy, and other underhanded tactics in the South China Sea, it is drawing on a playbook that it uses worldwide.

We see it in the East China Sea and around Taiwan, where Beijing has expanded its maritime provocations and threatening sorties. We see it in the Himalayas, where Beijing recently took aggressive action on its frontiers with India. We see it along the Mekong River, where Beijing has used its massive cascade of dams to hold back water from downstream neighbors in Southeast Asia, contributing to the worst drought in the Mekong’s recorded history. I urge everyone to read the recent report from the Stimson Center, “New Evidence: How China Turned Off the Tap on the Mekong River.”

But Beijing’s aggressive mode of operation is visible not only in other disputes over territory and natural resources.

It is also visible in Hong Kong, where Beijing’s new national security law flouts its commitments under the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 – an agreement now derided by PRC officials as nothing but a scrap of paper.  Just as they said about the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal ruling on the South China Sea.

Aggressive behavior is Beijing’s general approach to international organizations. When the South China Sea came up at an ASEAN meeting in 2010, Beijing’s top diplomat thundered at his Southeast Asian counterparts: “China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that’s just a fact.” This sort of contempt helps explain Beijing’s subversion of international institutions from the World Health Organization to Interpol, the World Trade Organization and beyond.

A few years ago, many believed that Beijing’s South China Sea abuses were mostly a local phenomenon, a kind of limited indulgence for a rising power finding its way in the world. Today we know that the Chinese Communist Party’s neo-imperial ways aren’t incidental to its character but are an essential feature of a nationalist and Marxist-Leninist mindset. Beijing wants to dominate its immediate neighborhood – and eventually impose its will and its rules on your neighborhood too, wherever you may be.

You could be a university student in Australia, a book publisher in Europe, or the general manager of an NBA franchise in Houston. You might work for an international hotel chain, a German car company, or a U.S. airline. You could be a 5G customer in Britain – or anywhere else in the world. Wherever you are, Beijing increasingly wants to stake claims, coerce, and control. By its nature, it cannot accept a pluralistic world with fundamental freedoms of choice and conscience.

The South China Sea, then, is less a faraway exception and more a sign and a threat of how the Chinese Communist Party will seek to act – unless it faces pushback. So it is good to see a wide range of countries increasingly stand against Beijing’s abuses, on a range of fronts including the South China Sea.

At the United Nations, a succession of formal declarations by Southeast Asian coastal states show clear resolve to uphold international law and reject pressure to accept Beijing’s unlawful claims. These include Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia in the past months alone.

Likewise, the United States and other countries have raised concerns for the first time in the U.N. Security Council and General Assembly over the dangers of PRC actions in the South China Sea.

Australia, Britain, France, Germany and India have all recently issued statements of unprecedented concern over South China Sea activities by Beijing that put regional stability and international law at risk. Meanwhile we see promising new defense and security arrangements among allies and partners from Australia to Southeast Asia, Japan and India.

As mentioned, all the Leaders of ASEAN last month insisted that South China Sea disputes must be resolved on the basis of international law, including UNCLOS.

I’ll close by citing the statement put out Sunday by the Philippines on the fourth anniversary of the Arbitral Tribunal ruling. “The arbitration case initiated and overwhelmingly won by the Republic of the Philippines versus the People’s Republic of China is a contribution of great significance and consequence to the peaceful settlement of disputes in the South China Sea and to the peace and stability of the region at large. . . . The arbitral tribunal’s award of 12 July 2016 represents a victory, not just for the Philippines, but for the entire community of consistently law-abiding nations.”

For our part, the United States is resolved to protect our vital interests and those of our allies and friends. We are building our military capabilities. We are vigilant. We are exercising and operating wherever international law allows. We are strengthening ties with our friends. We stand ready to help bolster the military capabilities of concerned nations. We support multilateral diplomatic efforts to resist PRC encroachments. And we are providing economic options to underscore that nations need not depend on initiatives from Beijing that are fundamentally predatory.

The community of law-abiding nations will indeed stand together. For a free and open South China Sea, a free and open Indo-Pacific, and a free and open world.

Many thanks for your time. I welcome your questions.

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Derek Grossman and Logan Ma, “A Short History of China’s Fishing Militia and What it May Tell Us,” Maritime Issues, 6 April 2020.

If history is a good indication of what to expect in the future, then Beijing is likely to double down on the Maritime Militia in virtually any scenario imaginable. That means it should be a force to be reckoned in the years to come.

China’s armed fishing militia—officially called the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM) by the U.S. Department of Defense—plays an instrumental role in Beijing’s strategy to enforce its sovereignty claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea. PAFMM is a government-supported armed fishing force of unknown strength that resides under the direct command and control of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). It has existed for decades and augments Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) and PLA Navy (PLAN) operations in the region.

PAFMM plays a particularly important role in establishing a de facto Chinese operating presence in disputed areas—in effect, changing the facts on the ground, or at sea, as it were—to challenge counter-claimants’ ability to maintain control over disputed features. These classic “gray zone” operations are designed to “win without fighting” by overwhelming the adversary with swarms of fishing vessels usually bolstered from the rear together with CCG, and possibly PLAN ships, depending on the contingency, in escalatory concentric rings.

But the very existence of maritime militia in China is highly unique, given that the only other country that has one for sovereignty disputes is neighboring Vietnam. Indeed, Hanoi officially created its own maritime militia force in 2009 for the singular purpose of competing directly with PAFMM in an ongoing “people’s war at sea.”[1] It is therefore worth asking: why did Beijing create a maritime militia to begin with and how has PAFMM evolved over time? What does this history suggest about its future? … …

“Little Blue Men” At Work

What began as a coastal patrol and surveillance force eventually evolved into a maritime sovereignty support force by the 1970s. The PRC’s “little blue men” increasingly acquired the roles of maritime rescue, combat operations, anti-smuggling, and, ultimately, sovereignty enforcement.

Regarding Chinese sovereignty enforcement operations, early PAFMM forces demonstrated their significant contributions to island seizure campaigns starting in January 1974 with the Battle of the Paracel Islands against South Vietnam. In truth, Beijing did not have much of a PLAN to speak of in 1974, and perhaps the PAFMM was more capable of amphibious operations than the navy itself. Either way, the presence of Chinese fishing vessels around the Paracels slowed down South Vietnamese decision-making on the use of force against PAFMM as well as their response times to counter PLAN maneuvers. Additional time allowed Beijing to coordinate more effectively. When two fishing trawlers delivered 500 PLA troops to the Western Paracels, it resulted in the immediate surrender of the South Vietnamese soldiers defending the disputed features.

A key lesson learned for Beijing was that leveraging fishing militia forces was far less likely to trigger U.S. intervention in the matter even when the threatened neighbor was a U.S. ally. It is fair to say that this was the genesis of Beijing’s strategy to routinely employ irregular forces in gray zone operations in the East China Sea and South China Sea. PAFMM’s debut on the world stage was a resounding success, elevating the narrative that fishing militia forces were essential to the success of China’s maritime strategy in the South China Sea. Following the Battle of the Paracel Islands in 1974, the PAFMM has been observed in nearly every major PLAN and CCG operation to harass maritime counter-claimants at disputed features or to seize the features from them.

Andrew S. Erickson and Conor M. Kennedy have carefully catalogued PAFMM activities in support of the CCG and PLAN since 1974.[4] Among these incidents, the PAFMM in 1978 engaged in swarming operations at the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, disputed with Japan, and since 2016 the militia ramped up their presence there. Erickson and Kennedy note the proliferation of incidents in the South China Sea since the Battle of the Paracels, to include PRC seizure of Mischief Reef and Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines in 1995 and 2012 respectively. Beijing also attempted to blockade Manila’s resupply mission of Second Thomas Shoal in 2014, and since 2017, has harassed Filipino fishermen at Sandy Cay and nearby Thitu (Pagasa) Island. PAFMM has also routinely bothered Vietnamese vessels, and in May 2014 helped enforce Beijing’s emplacement of the Haiyang Shiyou-981 oil rig in disputed waters by ramming Vietnamese fishing and coast guard vessels. Separately, Beijing appears confident that PAFMM harassment of the U.S. naval ships is below the threshold of a forceful and escalatory response. It has consequently employed fishing militia against the USNS Impeccable in 2009 as well as the Howard O. Lorenzen in 2014.

What Might the Future Hold for PAFMM?

PAFMM has evolved from being a small and near seas force to a robust and critical element of China’s national maritime strategy. The fact that PAFMM has not only survived, but thrived, during the PRC’s naval modernization beginning in the 1980s, implies that further modernization prioritizing increasingly advanced systems will not necessarily reduce PAFMM’s value over time. Actually, the opposite seems to be the case—that is, PAFMM’s role will likely grow in parallel with the PLAN and CCG to better support their operations. PAFMM’s humble origins as a product of collectivization and the Soviet “Young School” also suggest that if China experiences slowing military modernization due to economic or other circumstances, Beijing could instead rely more heavily upon PAFMM as a cheaper and lower technology alternative to sovereignty disputes and coastal defense. If history is a good indication of what to expect in the future, then Beijing is likely to double down on the PAFMM in virtually any scenario imaginable. That means it should be a force to be reckoned in the years to come.

***

Andrew S. Erickson, “Office of Naval Intelligence Just Published Latest China & Russia Maritime Ship Recognition Guides,” China Analysis from Original Sources 以第一手资料研究中国, 19 February 2020.

Check them out! Click here to access the China and Russia government naval/maritime ship recognition guide graphics that the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence just published!

***

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)

商品の説明

内容紹介

中国の沿岸警備隊に相当する海警局、そして海上民兵による軍事力や戦略・組織について、米海軍大学など世界の専門家がはじめて体系的に分析・紹介。日本にとっても注意が必要な中国の「グレーゾーン」戦略を知る最高の一書といえる。

内容(「BOOK」データベースより)

東シナ海・南シナ海に展開する準海軍「中国海警局」や「中国海上民兵」の実態と係争海域の実効支配を視野に入れた展開のすべて。米海軍大学の専門研究機関があらゆる角度から分析・詳述した決定版!

登録情報


中国の沿岸警備隊に相当する海警局、そして海上民兵による軍事力や戦略・組織について、米海軍大学など世界の専門家がはじめて体系的に分析・紹介。日本にとっても注意が必要な中国の「グレーゾーン」戦略を知る最高の一書。著者・編者紹介

【著者】
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)
退役米国海軍中佐および法務官、米国海軍大学中国海事研究所(CMSI)所長。
マシュー・P・フネオーレ(Matthew P.Funaiole)
戦略国際問題研究所(CSIS)チャイナ・パワー(中国実力)プレジェクト・フェロー。
ボニー・S・グレイサー(Bonnie S.Glaser)
戦略国際問題研究所アジア担当上級顧問およびチャイナ・パワープロジェクト・ディレクター。
ジョシュア・ヒッキー(Joshua Hickey)
米国海軍省上級分析官(15年以上の専門経験)。
ヘンリー・ホルスト(Henry Holst)
米国海軍省下級分析官。
コナー・M・ケネディ(Conor M.Kennedy)
米国海軍大学中国海事研究所研究員。
アダム・P・リフ(Adam P.Liff)
インディアナ大学グローバル国際問題研究校助教授兼ハーバード大学ライシャワー日本研究所研究員。
マイケル・マザール(Michael Mazarr)
ランド研究所アロヨセンター戦略・ドクトリンプログラムの上級政治学者およびアソシエイト・ディレクター。
バーナード・モアランド(Bernard Moreland)
退役米国沿岸警備隊大佐、米国沿岸警備隊の最初の元北京連絡官。米国太平洋艦隊司令部上級情報分析官。
ライル・J・モリス(Lyle J.Morris)
ランド研究所上級政策アナリスト。
ジョナサン・G・オドム(Jonathan G.Odom)
米国海軍中佐、ダニエル・K・イノウエ・アジア太平洋安全保障研究所法務官兼軍事教授。
マイケル・B・ピーターセン(Michael B.Petersen)
米国海軍大学ロシア海事研究所初代所長兼米国海軍大学海軍作戦研究センター准教授。
デール・C・リエーレ(Dale C.Rielage)
退役米国海軍大佐。米国太平洋艦隊インテリジェンス・情報作戦担当部長。
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)
ハーバード大学政治学部博士(PhD)課程。
スコット・H・スウィフト(Scott H.Swift)
退役米国海軍大将、元米国太平洋艦隊司令官(2015~2018年)。
武居智久
退役海上自衛隊海将、元第32代海上幕僚長(37年間の海上自衛隊経験)。現在、米国海軍大学教授兼米国海軍作戦部長特別インターナショナルフェロー。
マイケル・ウェーバー(Michael Weber)
米国議会調査部外交問題アナリストおよび大統領管理フェロー。
山本勝也
海上自衛隊1等海佐、元在北京日本国大使館防衛駐在官。米国海軍大学連絡官兼国際軍事教授(執筆時)。

【編者】
アンドリュー・S・エリクソン(Andrew S.Erickson)
米国海軍大学中国海事研究所戦略担当教授兼ハーバード大学ファエバンク中国研究所研究員。
ライアン・D・マーティンソン(Ryan D.Martinson)
米国海軍大学中国海事研究所助教授。

目次

序文
監訳者所感

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

謝辞
略語集
著訳者紹介
原注

カスタマーレビュー

5つ星のうち5.0

星5つ中の5

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。

2020年3月27日に日本でレビュー済み

グレーゾーン作戦は、戦争状態と平時の状態の間をうまく利用して、本格的な軍事行動を敵国にとらせないために実施されるものということらしい。中国共産党は、米国海軍と正面から戦っても勝てないことを良く理解している。戦争に至らないグレーゾーンで正規海軍が手が出せないように行動し、少しづつ権益を確保して、最終的には領土をかすめ取ろうという中国共産党のやり口が理解できた。
日本の領土である尖閣列島も、常時中国海警局の艦船が領海を脅かす活動を実施している。中国海警局と言っても組織的には人民解放軍海軍と密接につながっており、ほとんど海軍といってもいい組織である。
中国共産党は、中国海警局を諸外国には沿岸警備隊と称しているが、装備的には戦闘艦と同じである。
また、その下部組織に中国海上民兵という組織があり、彼らは、通常普通の経済活動(漁業や海運)を実施していて上から指示があれば、中国海警局と連携して行動することにはあまり知られていないことだ。お笑いともいえるのは、ベトナムへの嫌がらせ行為を行う中で、漁船の場合には迷彩服を着て威圧する、しかし海軍が出てくると漁民の作業服を着て相手を騙す手法である。
敵をうまくだまして勝とうとする戦略は、まさに孫氏の兵法にのっとったものだろう。日本も学ぶべきだ。

2人のお客様がこれが役に立ったと考えています

***

Chris Rahman, Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources & Security; review of Andrew S. Erickson and Ryan D. Martinson, eds., China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations(Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2019); Marine Policy 110 (December 2019).

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.’ The book comprises 16 concise chapters plus an introduction and conclusion, and is divided into five parts. The first part conceptualizes the gray zone itself. The next two focus on the primary instruments used in the strategy: the white hulls of the China Coast Guard (CCG) and the ‘blue hulls’ of the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM), respectively. Part four addresses possible scenarios for the next stage of gray zone operations based on analysis of China’s tactics in the two seas thus far. The final part comprises three short analyses: the temporal factor in gray zone operations, deterrence and the gray zone, and the different approaches taken by Vietnam and the Philippines in response to China’s strategy. Well-conceived maps and diagrams complete the whole.

The ‘gray zone’ is one of those trendy terms which periodically take hold within defence circles and associated strategic studies institutions. The intent is to describe situations of political and strategic competition which fall into the gray area separating peace and war; or, more accurately, between ‘normal’ peacetime conditions and outright armed conflict. Like much trendy terminology, the ‘gray zone’ describes a phenomenon which is hardly new, even in the maritime environment: the so-called ‘Cod Wars’ between Iceland and the United Kingdom are obvious examples. However, China’s strategy over the past decade to consolidate, and stretch, its claims to disputed territories, marine resources and maritime jurisdiction in both the East China Sea and South China Sea, has taken the practice of maritime gray zone operations to an unprecedented level of effort and scope of objective. China’s public rationales are couched in terms of safeguarding rights and interests at sea or ‘maritime rights protection.’ At face value, such rationales are neither unreasonable nor illegitimate objectives for any coastal state. The reality of Beijing’s expansive vision of its maritime rights, however, in practice exceeds any reasonable test of legitimacy; and indeed, following the Arbitral Tribunal’s July 2016 decision in the Philippines-China South China Sea case, lawfulness. Beijing’s objective in pursuing ‘maritime rights protection’ is nothing short of total political, strategic and economic control of the seas abutting mainland China’s coastline, to transform those seas into a veritable Chinese lake.

In the first chapter of Part I Michael B. Petersen thus defines the gray zone strategy employed by China to accomplish its objective as emphasizing ‘the nonlethal diplomatic, informational, economic, financial, intelligence, law enforcement, and irregular force means of compellence’ (p. 17). Michael Mazarr’s chapter on the role of deterrence in countering China’s strategy further elaborates on the concept, arguing that gray zone campaigns are attempts at strategic revisionism which avoid ‘crossing key thresholds that would prompt escalation’ (pp. 256–257). Mazarr identifies four key characteristics of gray zone campaigns: an aggressive pursuit of objectives, gradual in implementation, avoidance of escalation thresholds, and a preference for utilizing ‘nonmilitary tools’ (p. 257). Ambiguity and a difficulty in easily attributing responsibility for individual actions also are elements of gray zone operations. That is why China has demonstrated a preference for using the PAFMM as the vanguard of its maritime gray zone operations, supported, often from a distance, by coast guard vessels, which in turn are often supported, at a minimum implicitly, by naval forces usually positioned further away over the horizon from the operation in question.

In Part II Lyle J. Morris explains how four separate maritime law enforcement agencies were combined in 2013 into the CCG under the civilian State Oceanic Administration. He argues that integration has not been fully effective and many limitations remain, although, as the book as a whole demonstrates, this has not impeded the success of the gray zone strategy. Ryan D. Martinson further demonstrates how the CCG has become increasingly militarized, however, with one of the four agencies, China Maritime Police, part of the People’s Armed Police (PAP – an arm of China’s armed forces), taking a more prominent role. That process of militarization was completed in 2018 with the transfer of the CCG to PAP command.

The development of the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia into the frontline force for China’s gray zone operations in East Asian seas is established in Part III. Whilst the PAFMM is not new, with militia playing an integral role in the national defence mobilization system throughout the Communist era, China has placed far more emphasis upon it in asserting its maritime claims over the past decade. Morgan Clemens and Michael Weber explain how the PAFMM operates under a dual military-civilian structure. On the civilian side this corresponds to the Communist Party administrative structures at different levels of government; and on the military side to the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA’s) counterpart territorial administrative arrangements. At each administrative level ‘the two halves are bound together’ by national defence mobilization committees (p. 136). With the maritime militia, especially, this structure sometimes encompasses individual enterprises, such as fishing companies or other maritime industry. The use of fishing boats sometimes tasked to the PAFMM for maritime rights protection thus exacerbates the ambiguity and attribution problem, and places the onus on other parties to escalate an incident, in which case China can respond with ever greater levels of coercion. The attribution issue has been particularly difficult in incidents involving Chinese fishing vessels in the East China Sea, as Katsuya Yamamoto’s later chapter explains: ‘ … if a vessel does not display any definitive symbol of militia activities, it can be difficult to determine instantly whether it is an ordinary fishing boat or a PAFMM unit’ (p. 237). Elsewhere, on the other hand, certain PAFMM units are increasingly recognizable, such as the unit from Sansha City in the disputed Paracel island group in the South China Sea, which operates 84 purpose-built vessels exclusively for rights protection duties; not for fishing or other economic activities.

Conor M. Kennedy establishes in more detail the types of operations performed by the PAFMM: presence, in large part to assert China’s claims; harassment and sabotage; escort of purely civilian vessels operating in disputed waters; and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. The PAFMM also exists to support the PLA in more intense warfighting missions. However, as Clemens and Weber argue, it is poorly equipped and trained for such tasks; and actions to remedy the situation would paradoxically ‘degrade those very … attributes … that make the maritime militia so useful and effective in prosecuting gray zone missions … ’ (p. 150). Jonathan G. Odom’s chapter assesses the status of the PAFMM under international law. Importantly he concludes that PAFMM actions are ‘legally attributable to the PRC’ and are often inconsistent with several aspects of international law (p. 67). The U.S. Navy seems to be listening, with its chief reportedly warning his Chinese counterpart in January 2019 that U.S. forces would treat PAFMM or CCG actions no differently to those of the PLA Navy itself.

While some chapters identify many weaknesses in both the PAFMM and CCG, as well as in the joint command and coordination effectiveness linking China’s three maritime forces, 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. As with any work that makes extensive use of foreign language materials, there is the occasional minor inconsistency in transliteration between chapters. And, as is common in dealing with mainland Chinese sources on sensitive issues, it is not clear just how authoritative much of the source material actually is. On the other hand, China’s well-documented actions in disputed waters provide ample evidence to support this volume’s arguments. 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 (ANCORS), University of Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia E-mail address: crahman@uow.edu.au.

***

RECENT HIGH-LEVEL OFFICIAL STATEMENTS:

Vice President Pence deserves great credit for becoming the highest U.S. official ever to publicly call out China’s Maritime Militia! A most welcome capstone to five-plus years’ CMSI research on China’s Third Sea Force.

Remarks by Vice President Pence at the Frederic V. Malek Memorial Lecture,” sponsored by Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Conrad Hotel, Washington, DC, 24 October 2019.

Click here to watch the video on C-SPAN.

“…Beijing has stepped up its use of what they call ‘maritime militia’ vessels to regularly menace Filipino and Malaysian sailors and fishermen. And the Chinese Coast Guard has tried to strong-arm Vietnam from drilling for oil and natural gas off of Vietnam’s own shores.”

***

Statement of Assistant Secretary David R. Stilwell, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, U.S. Department of State, Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy, Washington, DC, 16 October 2019.

“We remain skeptical of the PRC’s sincerity to negotiate a meaningful Code of Conduct that reinforces international law. While claiming that they are committed to peaceful diplomacy, the reality is that Chinese leaders – through the PLA navy, law enforcement agencies, and maritime militia – continue to intimidate and bully other countries. Their constant harassment of Vietnamese assets around Vanguard Bank is a case in point. If it is used by the PRC to legitimize its egregious behavior and unlawful maritime claims, and to evade the commitments Beijing signed up to under international law, a Code of Conduct would be harmful to the region, and to all who value freedom of the seas.”

***

David R. Stilwell, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Testimony Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Washington, DC, 18 September 2019.

… …

Beijing’s Malign Conduct

Finally, while the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy has made significant progress to reinforce and advance the free and open order in the Indo-Pacific region, we are increasingly concerned that some are actively seeking to challenge this order. We are committed to working with any country that plays by the rules, but we will also stand up to any country that uses predatory practices to undermine them.

As the President’s National Security Strategy makes clear, we are especially concerned by Beijing’s use of market-distorting economic inducements and penalties, influence operations, and intimidation to persuade other states to heed its political and security agenda. Beijing’s pursuit of a repressive alternative vision for the Indo-Pacific seeks to reorder the region in its favor and has put China in a position of strategic competition with all who seek to preserve a free and open order of sovereign, diverse nations.

Since early July, Chinese vessels have conducted maritime surveys near Vanguard Bank with armed Coast Guard escorts and maritime militia in order to intimidate Vietnam and other ASEAN states away from developing oil and gas resources in the South China Sea. Through repeated illegal actions and militarization of disputed features, Beijing has and continues to take actions to prevent ASEAN members from accessing over $2.5 trillion in recoverable energy reserves. … …

***

Jessica Chen Weiss, “What China’s Assertiveness in the South China Sea Means—And What Comes Next,” The Monkey Cage, Washington Post, 30 May 2019.

China’s ‘maritime gray zone operations’ target U.S. naval vessels.

On Wednesday, General Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, remarked that despite assurances that there would be no moves to militarize the South China Sea, China had built “10,000-foot runways, ammunition storage facilities” — and routinely deployed aviation and missile defense capabilities. U.S. naval vessels operating in East Asia report being shadowed and harassed by China’s maritime forces. The Royal Australian Navy flagship Canberra also reported a recent encounter in the South China Sea while trailed by a Chinese warship: Its helicopter pilots were hit with lasers from what appeared to be fishing vessels.

To put these and other recent events in context, I reached out to two experts: Andrew S. Erickson, a professor at the Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) and a visiting scholar at Harvard University’s Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, and Ryan D. Martinson, a researcher at CMSI. They are the editors of the book “China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations” (U.S. Naval Institute, 2019). What follows is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation:

Jessica Chen Weiss: The trade war has dominated headlines in U.S.-China relations, but what’s the state of play between the United States and China in the South China Sea? How has China’s artificial enlargement of islands and reefs affected U.S. operations and interests?

Andrew S. Erickson and Ryan D. Martinson: While tariff disputes dominate world news, territorial disputes in the South China Sea remain a key flash point in U.S.-China relations. Beijing maintains a claim to all of the space within a “dashed line” enclosing most of the South China Sea — including hundreds of tiny islands and reefs. China also believes it has the right to engage in military, scientific and economic activity anywhere within this zone, and to limit at least some these same activities by other countries. Over the last decade or so, Beijing has vigorously asserted these claims. Instead of using its navy, it has relied on coast guard and maritime militia forces, operating in the “gray zone” between war and peace. … … …

JCW: The U.S. Navy recently warned that it would treat Chinese coast guard and paramilitary vessels the same as the Chinese navy. What’s behind this development?

ASE/RDM: The U.S. Navy recognizes that China has not one but three sea forces, which act increasingly in coordination. Within that division of labor, China’s navy has sought prestigious engagement and substantive learning opportunities with the U.S. Navy as Beijing’s “good cop” at sea, while China’s coast guard and maritime militia “bad cops” bully its neighbors over disputed features and waters and harass the U.S. Navy’s own ships. But now the days of Washington letting Beijing have it both ways are over.

U.S. officials have been making similar statements for months now — then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in November called for China’s maritime militia to “operate in a safe and professional manner in accordance with international law.” Assistant Defense Secretary Randall Schriver made a similar statement in a December interview. Their statements built on reports from the Pentagon and other agencies that exposed the maritime militia’s military nature and activities. These efforts to treat China’s three sea forces holistically and oppose their gray zone expansionism draw substantially on research conducted at CMSI over the past five years.

China has pursued a variety of coercive, competitive activities short of using force in the South China Sea. Which of these “gray zone activities” will the United States be more likely to succeed at deterring, and which will the United States probably have to live with?

ASE/RDM: That’s a great question, and one that Michael Mazarr addresses in our new book. … … …

***

Humphrey Hawksley, Asian Waters: The Struggle Over the South China Sea and the Strategy of Chinese Expansion (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2018), 194-97.

Humphrey Hawksley, Asian Waters: The Struggle Over the South China Sea and the Strategy of Chinese Expansion (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2018), 194.

Humphrey Hawksley, Asian Waters: The Struggle Over the South China Sea and the Strategy of Chinese Expansion (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2018), 195.

Humphrey Hawksley, Asian Waters: The Struggle Over the South China Sea and the Strategy of Chinese Expansion (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2018), 196.

Humphrey Hawksley, Asian Waters: The Struggle Over the South China Sea and the Strategy of Chinese Expansion (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2018), 197.

***

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. … … …

***

Andrew S. Erickson, “The Pentagon Reports: China’s Military Power,” The National Interest, 8 May 2019.

The Department of Defense is out with its latest report detailing the rise of Beijing’s military. Here is what you need to know.

As Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Randall G. Schriver emphasized in his rollout remarks on May 2, 2019, “our annual report to Congress, which we refer to as the China Military Power Report… is our authoritative statement on how we view developments in the Chinese military, as well as how that integrates with our overall strategy.”

Weighing in at a hefty 123 pages, this year’s document is nearly an inch thick. In terms of substance, it compares favorably among its seventeen predecessors. Among the report’s greatest strengths: as with previous iterations, it offers new data points and clarifications available nowhere else in authoritative form. This underscores the power of the U.S. government to disclose some of its collected information and accompanying analysis, a power this author and others believe should be used far more frequently. …

Gray Zone

The report pays proper attention to China’s emphasis on “gray zone” activities designed to fall below the threshold of armed conflict. Although the report also documents their use along China’s contested borders with India and Bhutan, such tactics are designed primarily to further disputed sovereignty claims regarding features and waters in the South and East China Seas (“Near Seas”). Here, China’s first sea force (the PLAN) often plays a backstop deterrence role over the horizon, while its second sea force (the China Coast Guard/CCG) and its third sea force (the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia/PAFMM) operate on the front lines. The CCG is “by far the largest coast guard force in the world.” It has “the ability to intimidate local, non-Chinese fishing boats, as occurred in an October 2016 incident near Scarborough Reef. The PAFMM is approximated only by Vietnam’s maritime militia, which is no match for it. On a related note, under the Joint Logistics Support Force, “The PLA is integrating civilian-controlled support equipment, including ships… into military operations and exercises.”

Since it first included coverage of the PAFMM in 2017, the Pentagon’s annual report has authoritatively showcased substantive details concerning this formerly under-considered force. This year, for the first time, the report includes both the CCG and PAFMM in an organizational chart depicting the leadership and chain of command of China’s armed forces. A dedicated section highlights increasing coordination and interoperability among China’s three sea forces, propelled by recent reforms including the CCG’s subordination to the People’s Armed Police (PAP), itself now under the sole command and control of the Central Military Commission. Notably, China’s three sea forces have shown greater interoperability amongst themselves than have the PAP and PLA between themselves.

Taken together, these developments could enhance the ability of China’s second and third sea forces “to provide support to PLA operations under the command of the joint theater commands.” In the South China Sea, the report stresses, “the PAFMM plays a major role in coercive activities to achieve China’s political goals without fighting….” It “has played significant roles in a number of military campaigns and coercive incidents over the years.” Of particular significance, “a large number of PAFMM vessels train with and assist the PLAN and CCG in tasks such as safeguarding maritime claims, surveillance and reconnaissance, fisheries protection, logistic support, and search and rescue.” Moreover, “In conflict, China may… employ CCG and PAFMM ships to support military operations.” This all makes it crystal clear that Chinese navy interlocutors cannot plausibly profess ignorance of the PAFMM to their foreign counterparts—as they have done repeatedly in official meetings. Based on the report’s nature and content, doing so profoundly insults American intelligence in all senses of the word.

In the South China Sea, “China has built a state-owned fishing fleet for at least part of its maritime militia force….” Hainan’s provincial government “ordered the building of 84 large militia fishing vessels with reinforced hulls and ammunition storage, which the [Sansha City Maritime Militia] received by the end of 2016, along with extensive subsidies to encourage frequent operations in the Spratly Islands.” Comprising China’s most professional PAFMM units, Sansha’s “forces are paid salaries independent of any clear commercial fishing responsibilities and recruited from recently separated veterans.” Meanwhile, China’s development and fortification of outposts on the South China Sea features it occupies allows China to “maintain a more flexible and persistent military and paramilitary presence in the area.”

In his Q&A with journalists, Schriver explained how the U.S. government’s understanding of China’s three sea forces affects U.S. policy in practice: “We’re less interested in the color of the hull than the activity and the actions.  So what we’re most interested in is China behaving in a manner that’s respectful of international law and norms, and behaving in a manner that is not destabilizing and is more constructive. …if its coast guard and maritime militia or classic gray-hulled navy, if the design is to infringe upon the sovereignty of another country… with the objective of creating some sort of tension that results in a favorable outcome for them…. If they’re engaged in provocation or infringement on another country’s sovereignty, particularly our allies, then we would treat them differently than if they were doing what we would regard as more normal coast guard activities, or we don’t have necessarily the equivalent of a maritime militia, but peaceful activities.”

All these points emerged independently from extensive open-source research on the PAFMM that the author, Conor Kennedy, and colleagues conducted at the Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) over the past five years. The Department of Defense has now validated our more specific findings and recommendations explicitly. … … …

***

Pentagon’s 2019 China Military Power Report Offers Strong Content on Maritime Militia

Office of the Secretary of Defense, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2019(Arlington, VA: Department of Defense, 2 May 2019).

p. 18

p. 52

INCREASING INTEROPERABILITY WITH PARAMILITARY AND MILITIA

Key Takeaways

  • As of 2018, the CMC assumed direct control of the PAP. As part of this reform, the PAP also assumed control of the China Coast Guard (CCG) from China’s State Oceanic Administration.
  • Paramilitary reforms could improve paramilitary forces’ ability to provide support to PLA operations under the command of the joint theater commands.
  • In 2018, examples of interoperability between the PLA and paramilitary forces included coordination between the PLAN, the CCG, and the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM).

p. 53

People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM). The PAFMM is a subset of China’s national militia, an armed reserve force of civilians available for mobilization. Militia units organize around towns, villages, urban sub-districts, and enterprises and vary widely in composition and mission. In the South China Sea, the PAFMM plays a major role in coercive activities to achieve China’s political goals without fighting, part of broader Chinese military theory that sees confrontational operations short of war as an effective means of accomplishing political objectives. The militia has played significant roles in a number of military campaigns and coercive incidents over the years, including the 2009 harassment of the USNS Impeccable conducting normal operations, the 2012 Scarborough Reef

p. 54

standoff, the 2014 Haiyang Shiyou-981 oil rig standoff, and a large incursion in waters near the Senkakus in 2016. A large number of PAFMM vessels train with and assist the PLAN and CCG in tasks such as safeguarding maritime claims, surveillance and reconnaissance, fisheries protection, logistic support, and search and rescueThe government subsidizes various local and provincial commercial organizations to operate militia vessels to perform “official” missions on an ad hoc basis outside of their regular civilian commercial activities. In the past, the PAFMM rented fishing vessels from companies or individual fishermen, but China has built a state-owned fishing fleet for at least part of its maritime militia force in the South China Sea. The Hainan provincial government, adjacent to the South China Sea, ordered the building of 84 large militia fishing vessels with reinforced hulls and ammunition storage, which the militia received by the end of 2016along with extensive subsidies to encourage frequent operations in the Spratly Islands. This particular PAFMM unit is also China’s most professional. Its forces are paid salaries independent of any clear commercial fishing responsibilities and recruited from recently separated veterans.

***

Andrew S. Erickson, “Fact Sheet: The People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM),” Editorial, The Maritime Executive, 30 April 2019.

Fact Sheet: The People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM)

BY ANDREW S. ERICKSON 2019-04-30

To distill five years of research on China’s maritime militia into actionable policy recommendations, the author offers the following memorandum, which he proposes to be issued with official U.S. government authority.

As the National Security Strategy of the United States of America 2017 emphasizes, China is engaged in continuous competition with America—neither fully “at peace” nor “at war.” Per this national guidance, we will raise our competitive game to meet that challenge, in part by addressing the potential risks to U.S. 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.

While virtually unique and publicly obscure, China’s Maritime Militia is known clearly to the U.S. government, which monitors it closely. A component of the People’s Armed Forces, it operates under a direct military chain of command to conduct state-sponsored activities. The PAFMM is locally supported, but answers to the very top of China’s military bureaucracy: Commander-in-Chief Xi Jinping himself.

China employs the PAFMM in gray zone operations, or “low-intensity maritime rights protection struggles,” at a level designed to frustrate effective response by the other parties involved. China has used it to advance its disputed sovereignty claims in international sea incidents throughout the South and East China Seas. This undermines vital American interests in maintaining the regional status quo, including the rules and norms on which peace and prosperity depend.

PAFMM units have participated in manifold maritime incidents in the South and East China Seas. Publicly-documented examples include China’s 1974 seizure of the Western Paracel Islands from Vietnam; 1978 swarming into the Senkaku Islands’ territorial sea; involvement in the occupation and development of Mischief Reef resulting in a 1995 incident with the Philippines; harassment of various Vietnamese government/survey vessels, including the Bin Minh and Viking; harassment of USNS Impeccable (2009) and Howard O. Lorenzen (2014); participation in the 2012 seizure of Scarborough Reef from the Philippines and 2014 blockade of Second Thomas Shoal; 2014 repulsion of Vietnamese vessels from disputed waters surrounding CNOOC’s HYSY-981 oil rig; large surge of ships near the Senkakus in 2016 and layered “cabbage-style” envelopment of the Philippines-claimed Sandy Cay shoal near Thitu Island, where China has sustained a presence of at least two PAFMM vessels since August 2017.

The elite units engaged in these incidents incorporate marine industry workers (e.g., fishermen) directly into China’s armed forces. While retaining day jobs, they are organized and trained in the PAFMM and often by China’s Navy, and activated on demand. Since 2015, starting in Sansha City in the Paracels, China has been developing more professionalized, militarized, well-paid full-time units including military recruits, crewing 84 purpose-built vessels with mast-mounted water cannons for spraying and reinforced steel hulls for ramming. Lacking fishing responsibilities, personnel train for peacetime and wartime contingencies, including with light arms, and deploy regularly to disputed South China Sea features even during fishing moratoriums.

There is no plausible deniability: the PAFMM is a state-organized, -developed, and -controlled force operating under a direct military chain of command to conduct Chinese state-sponsored activities. From now on, the United States expects all three Chinese sea forces—including the PAFMM—to abide at all times by the same internationally-recognized standards of law, seamanship, and communications to which U.S. maritime forces adhere; including the International Collision Regulations (COLREGS) and other international regulations governing allowable conduct by ships at sea.

Bottom line: Henceforth, the United States will not tolerate any attempt by the PAFMM to interfere with or compromise the safety, operations, or mission accomplishment of any U.S. government vessel.

Dr. Andrew S. Erickson is a professor of strategy in the U.S. Naval War College (NWC)’s China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) and an Associate in Research at Harvard University’s John King Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies. Since 2014, he and his colleague Conor M. Kennedy have been conducting and publishing in-depth research on the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM) and briefing key U.S. and allied decision-makers on the subject. In 2017 Erickson received NWC’s inaugural  Civilian Faculty Research Excellence Award, in part for his pioneering contributions in this area. 

This editorial appears courtesy of Dr. Erickson and may be found in its original form here.

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Demetri Sevastopulo and Kathrin Hille, “US Warns China on Aggressive Acts by Fishing Boats and Coast Guard,” Financial Times, 28 April 2019.

Navy chief says Washington will use military rules of engagement to curb provocative behaviour

The US has warned China that it will respond to provocative acts by its coast guard and fishing boats in the same way it reacts to the Chinese navy in an effort to curb Beijing’s aggressive behaviour in the South China Sea. Admiral John Richardson, head of the US navy, said he told his Chinese counterpart, vice-admiral Shen Jinlong, in January that Washington would not treat the coast guard or maritime militia — fishing boats that work with the military — differently from the Chinese navy, because they were being used to advance Beijing’s military ambitions. “I made it very clear that the US navy will not be coerced and will continue to conduct routine and lawful operations around the world, in order to protect the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of sea and airspace guaranteed to all,” Adm Richardson told the Financial Times. …

James Stavridis, a retired US admiral who also served as commander of NATO forces, said Adm Richardson was right to have delivered the tough message to the Chinese. “It is a warning shot across the bow of China, in effect saying we will not tolerate ‘grey zone’ or ‘hybrid’ operations at sea,” said Mr Stavridis. “A combatant is a combatant is the message, and the CNO (Chief of Naval Operations) is in the right place to warn China early and often.” …

US Analysts have long pushed for a more effective US response to counter China’s mix of military, paramilitary and economic coercive measures. Andrew Erickson, a maritime militia expert at the US Naval War College, recently called for the US to “deal with China’s sea forces holistically” and state clearly that it expected China’s navy, coast guard and maritime militia to follow international rules. He added that the US had to “accept some friction and force Beijing to choose between de-escalating — the preferred US outcome — or to move up against a US red line that China would prefer to avoid”. … … …

***

Andrew S. Erickson and Ryan D. Martinson, 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 will be available.

Eventually, there will also be an authorized Chinese-language translation through Ocean Press, China’s leading maritime publisher.

  • Andrew S. Erickson and Ryan D. Martinson, “Introduction: ‘War Without Gun Smoke’—China’s Paranaval Challenge in the Maritime Gray Zone,” 1-11.
  • Joshua Hickey, Andrew S. Erickson, and Henry Holst, “China Maritime Law Enforcement Surface Platforms: Order of Battle, Capabilities, and Trends,” 108-132.
  • Andrew S. Erickson and Ryan D. Martinson, “Conclusion: Options for the Definitive Use of U.S. Sea Power in the Gray Zone,” 291-301.

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

BOOK DESCRIPTION

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.

BLURBS

“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

REVIEWS

“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.

ABOUT THE EDITORS

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 websitewww.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.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

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

RELATED READING

INTERVIEW

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)

BACKGROUND AND SUMMARY OF VOLUME, AS WELL AS EDITORS’ FURTHER ANALYSIS AND POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS:

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. … …

***

Devin Thorne and Ben Spevack, “Ships of State: Chinese Civil-Military Fusion and the HYSY 981 Standoff,” Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), 23 January 2019.

On a late June morning in 2014, Vietnamese fisheries inspection vessel KN 951 approached HYSY 981 (海洋石油981), a Chinese-owned mobile oil platform operating within Vietnam’s claimed exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Three Chinese state-owned commercial vessels retaliated by spraying, ramming, and chasing KN 951 for approximately 11.5 nautical miles, ultimately doing substantial damage to the Vietnamese vessel’s hull. During the pursuit, these three Chinese tugboats displayed a considerable degree of tactical coordination: there is video footage showing that two boats worked in tandem to “T-bone” KN 951 while a third tug positioned itself in front of the Vietnamese vessel to prevent it from escaping. With the fifth anniversary of the HYSY 981 standoff on the horizon, reexamining it in the context of China’s civil-military fusion concept reveals Beijing’s strategic thinking on the role China’s merchant marine could play in future conflict.

Civil-military fusion (CMF) is a defining strategic concept in China’s quest to modernize its armed forces. A core component of the concept is improving national defense mobilization for both peaceful and wartime operations by integrating civilian personnel, equipment, and capabilities with military logistics systems. Burgeoning links between civilian actors and military bodies has led to, among other developments, agreements between the Joint Logistics Support Force and civilian-owned companies, as well as agreements between such firms and specific branches of China’s armed forces. In the maritime domain, agents of China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO) have supplied People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) escort ships in the Gulf of Aden. Military exercises also use commercial semi-submersible transport ships as mobile docks, with the goal of moving materiel and repairing combat-damaged warships.

Civilian-military logistical cooperation in wartime is not uncommon. Yet the HYSY 981 standoff of 2014 is a striking display of how Chinese civilian infrastructure, nominally peaceful in purpose, might be summoned to assist in achieving national security objectives outside of war and how civilian equipment could be used in conflict. It also provides further evidence for an oft-heard but difficult-to-prove claim: Beijing sees state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and their assets (as well as those of private companies) as dual-use and may consider using them aggressively to achieve China’s goals internationally.

Joint Operation

The HYSY 981 standoff began in May 2014, as a China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) mobile drilling platform moved into disputed waters south of the Paracel Islands on behalf of China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC). It was the opening of a bold play to enforce Beijing’s jurisdiction over the surrounding area. The U.S. Department of Defense described the standoff as “Using [a] Hydrocarbon Rig as a Sovereignty Marker.” This apt description was presaged two years earlier at HYSY 981’s unveiling when CNOOC’s Chairman and Party Secretary lauded the platform as “mobile national territory” in 2012 and, later, described HYSY 981 as a “strategic weapon.” Vietnam protested HYSY 981’s deployment through diplomatic representations and its coast guard, law enforcement, and fishing vessels harassed HYSY 981’s mission. The standoff lasted approximately two and a half months, with clashes between Chinese and Vietnamese non-military assets a common occurrence.

The HYSY 981 standoff has been judged to be the largest joint operation between China’s three main sea forces: the PLAN, the Coast Guard (CCG), and the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM). Deployed to Vietnamese-claimed waters until July 15, 2014, the HYSY 981 platform was defended from Vietnamese challengers by three concentric security rings (i.e., cordons) primarily comprising CCG and PAFMM assets. PLAN vessels, as well as PLA aircraft, provided overwatch support. Yet a fourth fleet participated as well: China’s merchant marine. Over the summer, roughly 30 commercial transport ships and tugboats also defended the oil platform.

The June 23 incident was not an anomaly. Within just five days of the platform’s entrance into Vietnam’s claimed EEZ, Chinese and Vietnamese vessels clashed nearly 200 timesVideos of the standoff show how commercial vessels repeatedly worked in tandem with CCG assets to spray, ram, and otherwise harass Vietnamese vessels that approached HYSY 981. Thus, China’s merchant marine not only served as passive deterrents in the security rings around the rig, but became active combatants in the conflict. … …

Lessons Learned

The HYSY 981 incident demonstrates for foreign powers how China’s merchant marine may interface with military and paramilitary forces in maritime conflict, furthering state aspirations, and hints at how Beijing elicits and rewards participation. But questions remain: why did Beijing mobilize the merchant marine for this operation and in what circumstances might it consider doing so again?

To the former, it is possible that Beijing required SOEs to contribute to the rig’s defense in exchange for approving the project in the first place. This may explain why the majority of identified commercial vessels belonged to COSL and CNPC and their subsidiaries. Another possibility is that these ships were mobilized to augment the capacity of the maritime militia. The maritime militia is primarily comprised of civilian fishermen who are compensated to participate in paramilitary operations. There is some evidence that militia members may have initially resisted participation in the HYSY 981 mission due to limited incentives, and thus the merchant marine may have been called upon to offset a force deficit.

To the latter, it is possible that Beijing was testing the use of its merchant marine in conflict both as a test of efficiency and how foreign actors might respond. Just as the PAFMM is employed to assert China’s interests in its near-seas below the threshold of war, the merchant marine could be used to do the same farther abroad. Already, the Chinese merchant marine and civilian transport companies are expected to facilitate long-range naval missions globally. Even outside of the Gulf of Aden, Chinese companies operating in foreign countries resupply warships. In the years following the standoff, China has formalized aspects of the dynamics on display in 2014 by promulgating new legislation. In 2015 and 2016, new laws further required all “container, roll-on/roll-off, multipurpose, bulk carrier and break bulk” vessels be built to military standards and that “all SOEs conducting international transport services and their overseas institutions must provide re-supply and rest and re-organization assistance for all ships, planes, vehicles, and personnel involved in military operations for international rescue, maritime escort, and the defense of national interests overseas.”

Strategic Challenge

In building itself into a “great maritime power” capable of projecting power and influence far afield, China is employing both military and economic means. Chinese SOEs now dominate international shipping lanes and ports, enjoying control of or influence in over half of the world’s top 50 container ports—investments that have the potential to reshape operating environments in critical waterways. At the same time, China controls the world’s largest merchant marine (counting by vessels owned and registered in the country) of 2,008 ships (not including tugboats or fishing vessels), which the Chinese military thinks of as a “strategic delivery support force” to enhance Beijing’s maritime projection.

Many countries rely on their merchant marine fleets to provide logistical support to the military during war and peaceful long-range patrols, but the HYSY 981 standoff suggests that Beijing believes commercial assets are legitimate instruments of aggression in peacetime. Similar logic is seen frequently in the activities of China’s PAFMM fishing vessels, which is one of only two militias in the world that has a mandate to defend internationally disputed territorial claims, even in peacetime. China’s apparent willingness to leverage commercial assets—particularly SOE assets—as critical tools of foreign policy coercion has global security implications.

In 2015, the HYSY 981 platform was prominently featured at an Achievements of Civil-Military Fusion Development in the National Defense Technology Industry Exhibition alongside other dual-use systems and technologies, such as remote sensing and surveillance planes, satellites, and water-pressurized nuclear reactors. Yet the standoff shows that CMF is more than civil-military cooperation on science and technology or research and development (on which most CMF research in the West has focused). It is also more than the adaptation of civilian infrastructure for military logistics and defensive mobilization. CMF opens the door for direct civilian participation in conflict. The HYSY 981 standoff shows this to be the case in the maritime arena, and in other domains (specifically network warfare) Chinese strategists explicitly call for civilian participation in combat.

Conclusion

As CMF drives state-owned and private firms closer to the Chinese military, countries and corporations should appropriately evaluate the risks and rewards of certain Chinese investment. Chinese SOEs may pose the greatest risk, as they are directly controlled by the State. Moreover, they have deep capital reserves, enabling them to operate broadly across regions and industries, as well as potentially absorb substantial losses that market-driven businesses may not survive. Finally, many SOE subsidiaries are publicly traded on international markets, creating the impression that these companies are purely motivated by profits. Indeed, a CNOOC subsidiary is traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Such impressions can be accurate, but the dual-use nature of SOEs and the inherent risks of civilian mobilization potentially stemming from CMF agreements demand heightened scrutiny of Chinese investments abroad.

***

Andrew S. Erickson, “Chinese Shipbuilding and Seapower: Full Steam Ahead, Destination Uncharted,” Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), 14 January 2019.

In recent years, China has been building ships rapidly across the waterfront. Chinese sources liken this to “dumping dumplings into soup broth.” Now, Beijing is really getting its ships together in both quantity and quality. The world’s largest commercial shipbuilder, it also constructs increasingly sophisticated models of all types of naval ships and weapons systems. What made this possible, and what does it mean? … … …

Near Seas Operational Scenarios

Closer to China’s shores, there is limited value for Chinese carrier operations, given their relative vulnerability and the potential for a highly-contested environment. But China’s shipbuilding industry has already produced a fleet of several hundred increasingly advanced warships capable of “flooding the zone” along the contested East Asian littoral, including increasingly large amphibious vessels well-suited to landing on disputed features, if they can be protected sufficiently. This is also where China’s large, conventionally-powered submarine fleet can be particularly deadly. When several hundred easy-and-cheap-to-build ships from China’s coast guard and its most advanced maritime militia units are factored in, Beijing’s numerical preponderance becomes formidable for the “home game” scenarios it cares about most. And that does not even include the land-based “anti-navy” of aircraft and missiles that backstops them. In this way, Beijing is already able to pose a formidable military-maritime challenge to the regional interests and security of the United States and its East Asian allies and partners. … … …

This article elaborates on a podcast in which CSIS scholar Bonnie Glaser interviewed Dr. Erickson as part of the ChinaPower Project that she directs there.

***

Admiral John Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations: “It important for… the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia, to operate in a safe and professional manner, in accordance with international law”

CNO Visits China, Underscores Importance of Professional Interaction at Sea,” Navy.mil, 15 January 2019.

Story Number: NNS190115-13

Release Date: 1/15/2019 2:46:00 PM

From Chief of Naval Operations Public Affairs

NANJING, China (NNS) — Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson visited China and met with senior Chinese defense officials, Jan. 13 to 16, to discuss professional interactions at sea, specifically addressing risk reduction and operational safety measures.

Richardson visited the People’s Liberation Army (Navy) (PLA(N)) Command College for a roundtable discussion, where CNO underscored the importance of lawful and safe operations around the globe. He also reiterated that U.S. forces will continue to operate wherever international law allows–a point emphasized by U.S. officials during recent visits to Asia.

“The U.S. Navy will continue to conduct routine and lawful operations around the world, in order to protect the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of sea and airspace guaranteed to all,” said Richardson. “This will not change. Enhancing the prosperity of all is the direct result of a secure and orderly maritime domain.”

Richardson began the visit in Beijing where he met with PLA(N) Commander Vice Adm. Shen Jinlong; the two heads of navy had frank and substantive conversations on the importance of operating safely, in accordance with international law. They also discussed future opportunities for the two navies to engage.

“It important for all military, law enforcement, and civilian vessels and aircraft, includingthose in the PLA Navy, the Chinese Coast Guard, and the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia, to operate in a safe and professional manner, in accordance with international law,” said Richardson. “Consistent operations and behavior are critical to preventing miscalculation.”

This is Richardson’s second visit to China as the chief of naval operations.

The two admirals met previously at the International Seapower Symposium, hosted by Richardson in Newport, R.I. and have held three discussions via video teleconference.

***

Defense Intelligence Agency Report—“China Military Power: Modernizing a Force to Fight and Win”—Highlights People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia

China Military Power: Modernizing a Force to Fight and Win (Washington, DC: Defense Intelligence Agency, 2019).

Click here to download a cached copy.

p. 65

China’s Navy, Coast Guard, and Maritime Militia are increasingly visible throughout the region, and Beijing has employed increasingly coercive tactics to advance its regional interests. As China’s naval capabilities have grown, Beijing has taken steps to consolidate its maritime forces and improve its ability to respond flexibly to contingencies, while avoiding escalation to military conflict and maintaining a veneer of advancing peaceful global interests. China’s land reclamation and outpost expansion in the Paracel and Spratly Islands include port facilities from which it can surge PLAN,

p. 66

China Coast Guard (CCG), and People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM) ships to better enforce maritime sovereignty claims, as well as airbases to support reconnaissance, fighter, and strike aircraft.

Under Chinese law, maritime sovereignty is a domestic law enforcement issue under the purview of the CCG. Beijing also prefers to use CCG ships for assertive actions in disputed waters to reduce the risk of escalation and to portray itself more benignly to an international audience. For situations that Beijing perceives carry a heightened risk of escalation, it often deploys PLAN combatants in close proximity for rapid intervention if necessary. China also relies on the PAFMM – a paramilitary force of fishing boats – for sovereignty enforcement actions.

p. 79

People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia. The PAFMM is a subset of China’s national militia, an armed reserve force of civilians available for mobilization to perform basic support duties. Militia units organize around towns, villages, urban subdistricts, and enterprises, and they vary widely from one location to another. The composition and mission of each unit reflects local conditions and personnel skills. In the South China Sea, the PAFMM plays a major role in coercive activities to achieve China’s political goals without fighting, part of broader Chinese military doctrine that states that confrontational operations short of war can be an effective means of accomplishing political objectives.225

A large number of PAFMM vessels train with and support the PLA and CCG in tasks such as safeguarding maritime claims, protecting fisheries, and providing logistic support, search and rescue (SAR), and surveillance and reconnaissance. The Chinese government subsidizes local and provincial commercial organizations to operate militia ships to perform “official” missions on an ad hoc basis outside their regular commercial roles. The PAFMM has played a noteworthy role in a number of military campaigns and coercive incidents over the years, including the harassment of Vietnamese survey ships in 2011, a standoff with the Philippines at Scarborough Reef in 2012, and a standoff involving a Chinese oil rig in 2014. In the past, the PAFMM rented fishing boats from companies or individual fisherman, but it appears that China is building a state-owned fishing fleet for its maritime militia force in the South China Sea. Hainan Province, adjacent to the South China Sea, ordered the construction of 84 large militia fishing boats with reinforced hulls and ammunition storage for Sansha City, and the militia took delivery by the end of 2016.226

225 Annual Report to Congress; Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2017; Office of the Secretary of Defense; May 2017.

226 Annual Report to Congress; Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2017; Office of the Secretary of Defense; May 2017.

***

Gregory B. Poling, “Illuminating the South China Sea’s Dark Fishing Fleets,” 9 January 2019.

Unseen fishing activity. Maritime militias in the Spratlys. Fishers have often been overlooked in the South China Sea disputes. CSIS, in cooperation with Vulcan, Inc., unveils a worrying narrative about the impact fishers and their fleets have in the region. … …

This gross overcapacity combined with their tendency to congregate around both Chinese-occupied reefs and those held by other claimants leads to the conclusion that most of these vessels serve, at least part-time, in China’s maritime militia.

The activities of the militia are well-documented—they engage in patrol, surveillance, resupply, and other missions to bolster China’s presence in contested waters in the South and East China Seas. Beijing makes no secret of their existence, and some of the best-trained and best-equipped members engage in overt paramilitary activities such as the harassment of foreign vessels operating near Chinese-held islets or dangerous standoffs with vessels from neighboring states as occurred in 2014 when China deployed an oil rig in waters claimed by Vietnam. But this analysis indicates that their numbers in the Spratly Islands are much larger and much more persistent than is generally understood.

The Yue Tai Yu Fleet

The story of one set of these militia ships, the Yue Tai Yu fleet, is instructive and highlights just how much Beijing has invested in the militia in recent years.

The nine vessels named Yue Tai Yu 18000 through 18999 are each 62.8-meter trawlers. They were built by Guangxin Shipbuilding & Heavy Industry in 2017.

Like most Chinese fishing ships in the South China Sea, they rarely transmit AIS data, despite being legally required to do so. But they have transmitted enough to determine that they left Guangxin, traveled to the coastal port of Shadi, and spent the intervening year traveling back and forth between this homeport and the Spratly Islands.

The vessels have made lengthy stays at Subi and Mischief Reefs and visited China’s facilities at Gaven, Johnson, and Hughes Reefs. But their maritime militia status seems apparent from time spent loitering in the waters around Philippine-occupied Thitu and Loaita Islands.

The Yue Tai Yu vessels have been captured in satellite imagery on several occasions, and neither these images nor the patterns seen in their intermittent AIS transmissions show that the ships spend much, if any, time fishing. That means these large modern trawlers, which likely cost $100 million or more to build, are not producing much commercial benefit to their owners. If they are any indication, Beijing is sinking a stunning amount of money into subsidizing the operations of a massive and largely unproductive fishing fleet in the Spratly Islands. … … …

***

Andrew S. Erickson, “Maritime Numbers Game: Understanding and Responding to China’s Three Sea Forces,” Indo-Pacific Defense Forum Magazine 43.4 (December 2018): 30-35.

Powered by the world’s largest shipbuilding industry, as well as the world’s second-largest economy and defense budget under Xi Jinping’s ambitious leadership, China is becoming a major sea power in its own right and in its own way.

China’s armed forces comprise three major organizations, each with a maritime subcomponent that is already the world’s largest such sea force by number of ships. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) contains the PLA Navy (PLAN); the People’s Armed Police has formally been put in charge of most maritime law enforcement forces in the China coast guard (CCG); and the People’s Armed Forces Militia contains a growing proportion of seagoing units, the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM).

Not seeking war but determined to change the status quo coercively, Beijing employs its enormous second and third sea forces in so-called maritime gray zone operations to further its disputed sovereignty claims in the near seas (Yellow, East and South China seas). Typically, its first sea force provides coordination and deterrence from over the horizon.

THREE SEA FORCES

China’s first sea force, the PLAN, already has the most ships of any navy. “The PLAN is the largest navy in Asia, with more than 300 surface ships, submarines, amphibious ships and patrol craft,” according to the Pentagon’s 2017 China Military Power Report. By 2020, the PLAN will have 313-342 warships, the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence forecasts. Meanwhile, as of April 13, 2018, the U.S. Navy had 285 “deployable battle force ships,” according to its official website.

China’s second sea force, the coast guard, is likewise the world’s largest, with more hulls than those of all its regional neighbors combined: 225 ships over 500 tons capable of operating offshore and another 1,050-plus confined to closer waters, for a total of 1,275. In 2020, the CCG is projected to have a total of 1,300-plus ships: 260 large vessels capable of operating offshore, many capable of operating worldwide, and another 1,050-plus smaller vessels confined to closer waters.

From 2005 to 2020, this represents a 15-year net increase of 400 total coast guard ships. That includes 202 additional ships capable of operating offshore, representing 350 percent growth in the latter category.

In terms of qualitative improvement, China has now replaced its older, less-capable large patrol ships. It is applying lessons learned from scrutinizing the “gold standard” U.S. and Japanese coast guards, as well as the CCG’s increasing experience operating farther offshore for longer periods. The resulting new ship features include helicopters, interceptor boats, deck guns, high-capacity water cannons and improved seakeeping. With a length of 165 meters, a beam of 20-plus meters, and at 10,000-plus tons full load, China’s two Zhaotou-class cutters are the world’s largest coast guard vessels and displace more than most modern naval destroyers. Most newly built CCG ships have helicopter decks, some with hangars. Many new CCG ships have quick-launch boat ramps on the fantail, allowing for rapid deployment of interceptor boats. These include approximately 10-meters-long fast interceptor boats with twin outboard engines enabling high speeds for visit, board, search and seizure law enforcement against fishing vessels or other ships. Many new ships have 30 mm guns mounted, with a few of the larger ships carrying 76 mm main guns. Most recently constructed CCG ships now have high-output water cannons mounted high on their superstructure.

China’s third sea force, the PAFMM, is a state-organized, developed and controlled force operating under a direct military chain of command to conduct Chinese national activities. It is locally supported, but it answers to the top of China’s centralized bureaucracy: Commander in Chief Xi himself. The part-time elite units engaged in many of these incidents incorporate marine industry workers (for example, fishermen) directly into China’s armed forces. While retaining day jobs, they are organized and trained in the PAFMM, often by China’s navy, and activated on demand.

Since 2015, starting in Sansha City in the Paracels, China has been developing a full-time militia force: more professional, militarized, well-paid units including military recruits, crewing 84 large vessels built with water cannons and external rails for spraying and ramming.

Lacking fishing responsibilities, personnel train for manifold peacetime and wartime contingencies, including with light arms, and deploy regularly to disputed South China Sea features even during fishing moratoriums.

FAR SEAS VERSUS NEAR SEAS OPERATIONS

China’s second and third sea forces are helping to operationalize a naval strategy that has evolved from “near-coast defense” to a combination of “near-seas defense” and “far-seas protection.” Beijing’s maritime force posture is shifting from a coordinated three-sea-force focus on regional seas to supplementing that ongoing effort with a further division of labor in which PAFMM and CCG roles and missions have expanded to backfill behind the PLAN as it significantly increases its overseas missions and presence.

Adm. Harry B. Harris, Jr., then-Commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, testified in February 2018 before the U.S. House Armed Services Committee: “Across the South China Sea, China’s air force, navy, coast guard and maritime militia all maintain a robust presence. Routine patrols and exercises ensure Chinese forces are in and around all the features, not just the ones they occupy. China routinely challenges the presence of non-Chinese forces, including other claimant nations and especially the U.S., often overstating its authority and insisting foreign forces either stay away or obtain Chinese permission to operate.”

China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, cruises into Hong Kong for a port call.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

In the near seas, China employs the CCG and PAFMM in gray zone operations against vessels from its maritime neighbors, as well as the U.S., at a level designed to frustrate effective response by the other parties involved.

China has used these forces to advance its disputed sovereignty claims in international sea incidents throughout the South China Sea, as well as in the East China Sea. This undermines vital U.S. interests in maintaining the regional status quo, including the rules and norms on which peace and prosperity depend.

Today, Chinese sea forces are enveloping the Philippines-claimed Sandy Cay shoal (near Thitu Island), around which China has sustained a presence of at least two PAFMM vessels since August 2017. The CCG regularly challenges Japanese administration of the Senkaku Islands. Chinese maritime law enforcement and PAFMM vessels and personnel cooperated in the 2014 controversial repulsion of Vietnamese vessels from disputed waters surrounding China National Offshore Oil Corp.’s Hai Yang Shi You 981 oil rig, 2012 seizure of Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines, and 2009 harassment of USNS Impeccable.

During the past two decades, PAFMM units have participated in China’s 2015 maneuvers around USS Lassen, 2014 harassment of USNS Howard O. Lorenzen, 2014 blockade of the Second Thomas Shoal, harassment of multiple Vietnamese government and survey vessels; and occupation and development of Mischief Reef, resulting in a 1995 incident with the Philippines.

RECOMMENDATIONS

As the U.S. National Security Strategy 2017 emphasizes, China is engaged in continuous competition with America — which it views as neither fully at peace nor at war. To continue to safeguard U.S. interests and maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific, the U.S. Navy must continue to grow numerically, maintain a robust presence, and — together with its domestic and foreign allies and partners — deter even the most determined aggression with sufficient numbers of long-range strike systems.

A Chinese coast guard vessel, right, passes near the Chinese oil rig, Hai Yang Shi You 981, in the South China Sea in June 2014. Vietnam challenged the location of the rig, saying it was in Vietnam’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone. Several weeks later, China moved the rig toward Hainan.
REUTERS

Numbers matter significantly when it comes to maintaining presence and influence in vital seas: Even the most advanced ship simply cannot be in more than one place simultaneously. Case in point: the growing U.S.-China strategic competition where Washington plays a distant away game. U.S. Coast Guard cutters are focused near American waters, far from any international disputes, while the U.S. Navy is dispersed globally, with many ships separated from maritime East Asia by responsibilities, geography and time. By contrast, all three major Chinese sea forces remain focused first and foremost on the contested near seas and their immediate approaches, close to China’s homeland, land-based air and missile coverage, and supply lines.

Meanwhile, the U.S. and its allies and partners must increase their efforts to counter China’s erosive gray zone activities, currently the focus of its efforts to impose its national laws and disputed sovereignty claims on features and maritime spaces to which its neighbors and the international community have legitimate rights.

To help complicate and counteract the Chinese maritime coercion that former Adm. Harris rightly emphasized, the U.S. should further demonstrate proactive leadership in the Indo-Pacific by sharing more information on all three PRC sea forces, emphasizing the cooperative nature of collective security, and encouraging allies and partners to invest in capabilities that complement those of the U.S. A particularly promising area for leveraging like-minded stakeholders is to further pursue collaborative approaches to maritime domain awareness that help them monitor proximate waters and airspace and share resulting information. Assisting less capable partners with hardware and training will help them not only to better help themselves and enhance status quo-supporting presence but also to populate the common operational picture.

Navy personnel from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy participate in a military display in April 2018 in the South China Sea, where China continues to increase its aggressive activities, including building military facilities on artificial “islands” recently constructed in contested territory. REUTERS

Additionally, the U.S. can leverage Chinese weaknesses and constraints more effectively to limit negative behavior. At the strategic level, the U.S. can curtail the ability of China’s gray zone forces to operate without scrutiny and with plausible deniability, however implausible, by publicly revealing their true nature and demonstrating resolve to impose consequences for unlawful actions.

  • First, the U.S. should demonstrate greater awareness of China’s actions to change its behavior.
  • Second, the U.S. should communicate consequences of unacceptable actions.
  • Third, the U.S. should utilize all relevant venues for strategic communications.
  • Fourth, the U.S. should deal with China’s sea forces holistically. Washington should state clearly that it expects all three — including the PAFMM — to abide by the same internationally recognized standards of law, seamanship and communications to which U.S. maritime forces adhere, including the International Collision Regulations and other international rules of the road at sea.

To regain the operational initiative, the U.S. must better deter and punish any Chinese use of the PAFMM in ways that are inimical to U.S. interests to break China’s asymmetric advantage through calibrated escalation as needed.

  • First, the U.S. needs to accept some friction and force Beijing to choose between de-escalating — the preferred U.S. outcome — or to move up against a U.S. red line that China would prefer to avoid.
  • Second, Washington must support its allies and partners on the front lines of keeping maritime East Asia peaceful and open to all to help them help themselves and the region alike.
  • Third, Washington should consider enhanced rules of engagement and signal to Beijing accordingly. The U.S. should not tolerate any attempt to interfere with or compromise the safety, operations or mission accomplishment of any U.S. government vessel.
  • Fourth, to support the above, Washington must develop a broad array of credible consequences including punishment options that rapidly and creatively impose costs just high enough to exceed any ill-gotten Chinese gains.

***

Yoshinari Kurose

(Click here to read the original article in Japanese.)

Randall Schriver, United States Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, recently spoke to Yoshinari Kurose, Washington Bureau chief of The Sankei Shimbun and JAPAN Forward.

The wide-ranging and substantive interview held on November 21 started off with the most contentious issue: China. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is a key to China’s expansionism and its hegemonic strategy not just in the Indo-Pacific region but the whole world. 

Excerpts:

What is [your] main concern regarding the PLA’s advancement in strategy and also in weapons?

Well, they have been investing heavily in their military for quite a long period of time, over a decade of double-digit growth in official defense budgets. We think the spending exceeds what is published in official budgets. So, with that kind of investment over that period of time, they are obviously improving in a lot of areas. It is really a full-spectrum improvement: strategic systems, traditional platforms, conventional platforms, but also new areas, cyber, space. So, they are improving across the board.

That appears to be tied to a strategy that is more assertive, particularly in the Asia Pacific, Indo-Pacific region. But as you point out, they are more active globally, so I would say it is the combination of their qualitative improvement over time of their military [and] their more assertive foreign policy.

How about their nuclear arsenals? What is your assessment of them?

Well, they are not very transparent, so even what we would consider pretty fundamental information, like the number of warheads, they don’t publish. So, we make assessments based on what information is available. But, in delivery systems, they are improving, so their strategic forces are also part of that modernization effort.

And how about the assessment of the mid-range and short-range missiles posing a threat to U.S. bases in Guam or mainland Japan?

It has been an area of heavy investment, ballistic and cruise missiles, and it is an area where they have had, I think, technical success and progress. So, they are at a point where they can hold at risk our forward deployed forces, bases that we are allowed to use in Japan, and other forward operating locations. Some people refer to it as a strategy of A2AD — anti-access/area denial — and so that factors in how we think about future possible contingencies.

President Trump actually declared the U.S. pullout from the INF (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces) Treaty. Would that give any positive impact to the nuclear strategy in East Asia, in terms of countering the threat of those Chinese missiles?  

I think our State Department is still looking at precisely if — and how — a withdrawal would be made, and then at a later point I think we would have to look at implications.

How about the Chinese submarines, SLBMs?

Again, very similar. They have invested a lot in a strategic capability through submarine launched ICBMs, and we assess they have made progress there.

Especially in the South China Sea, you can see China is trying to make the particular area a bastion of submarines. I think it is a part of A2AD strategy. What is the U.S. strategy — beyond Freedom of Navigation operations — to prevent the South China Sea from becoming a Chinese naval stronghold?

Well, it is a “whole of government” approach. Some of it is declaratory policy making: declare our interest in a free and open Indo-Pacific and our firm belief that the South China Sea is international water, and that any sovereignty disputes should be handled peacefully.

Part of it is through freedom of navigation and presence operations (FONOPs).

Part of it is through operating with like-minded countries in presence operations. Perhaps not actual FONOPs because some countries don’t want to navigate within the 12 nautical mile areas, but presence operations alongside other countries. Cost imposition in some cases.

When we disinvited China from RIMPAC (Rim of the Pacific Exercise), Secretary [James] Mattis specifically cited the behavior in the South China Sea as a reason. So, our goal is to ensure that everyone understands China can’t unilaterally change international law, international norms, and that their illegal expansive claims won’t be honored. And we demonstrate that through our behavior.

This is about China’s diplomatic field. They are establishing military outposts in places like Djibouti by acquiring ports through so-called “debt diplomacy.” Does this constitute a growing challenge to U.S. military strategy in the world?

Well, it is something that we are observing in real time. And I would say it is a fluid environment because, in some cases, the approach has backfired a bit and created a backlash in certain countries. I think we are seeing that in places like Malaysia, somewhat in Sri Lanka, although the politics there have gotten a little more complicated. But people don’t like the perception that their sovereignty is being eroded.

So, what can this Department do in countering this?

Well, again, I will speak more “whole of government.” I think shining a light on this approach by China and showing through the examples that countries are dealing with — that there is a downside to getting into these kinds of deals with China — so that other countries can learn from the experience of others. In some cases, offering alternatives.

We don’t invest and pursue development assistance the same way China does. We don’t use corruption, we won’t make sweetheart deals with authoritarian leaders. But we do promote investment that is clean, transparent, beneficial to the host nation. So, our own alternatives, or in cooperation with Japan, with India, are providing a better alternative than what the Chinese can offer.

I would like to change the topic to the East China Sea. It seems like the activities of the Chinese military, and so-called militia, are increasing. What is your assessment of the East China Sea at this moment?

Well, first of all, we don’t draw much of a distinction at this point between the Chinese Navy, Maritime Militia, and the Chinese Coast Guard. They are all involved in a similar activity, which is to challenge the sovereignty claims that are disputed with Japan, put pressure on our ally. So, I think we have seen a steady amount of activity and pressure on Japan. And we have seen Japan respond to that in, I think, an appropriate way.

Of course, several administrations in a row, including this one, have acknowledged that our treaty applies to the Senkaku Islands because it is a territory administered by the government of Japan, so we will continue to be a supportive ally in those matters. Although we haven’t taken a position on sovereignty itself, we do acknowledge the treaty applies.

You mentioned the Coast Guard and the Maritime Militia. As you know, now the Chinese Coast Guard is under the Central Military Commission of China and it is highly probable that those so-called fishermen are Chinese military. But, actually, is it a kind of gray zone? Would the U.S. draw a clear line that defines that those elements are actually part of the Chinese military, and change the approach?

We are more interested in what the activity is and what the mission is of a particular hull, not the color it is painted.

About the U.S.-Japan relationship, what do you expect the Japanese Self Defense Force (SDF) or the Japanese government to do to counter these assertive Chinese actions?  

We have been supportive of Japan’s response so far. I think Japan has had a steady tempo of challenges and intercepts when the activity is viewed as a threat to Japanese sovereignty and Japanese interests. I think, over a longer period of time, Japan is increasing resources for defense, but also realigning and paying more attention to the south and to those disputed areas, and we are supportive of that.

We are looking at Japan’s upcoming five-year defense program guidelines and we are in consultation with Japan, as we were when we were developing our National Defense Strategy. So, I think the challenges from China in the East China Sea are near the top of the list for our Japanese allies and so we will be supportive as they further develop the strategy.

Does that also apply to the South China Sea? Will Japan be playing a more proactive role in the South China Sea? 

That is a sovereign decision for Japan and I think where we know we are aligned is in the interests. We both want a free and open Indo-Pacific and a South China Sea that is under nobody’s sole control, that remains international waters, and so we will work out the particular activities that support that.

Turning our eyes to Taiwan: according to the Pentagon’s annual report, Chinese combat aircraft are actually increasing. Not only the numbers of aircraft, but the Cross-Strait balance of power is going in favor of China. So, what would be the U.S. action in order to balance the power, to make it more in favor of Taiwan?

Well, our law requires us to monitor the balance of military forces and the law also says, based solely on our assessment of the military balance, we will make decisions on weapons of a defensive nature for Taiwan’s self-defense. So that is part of an ongoing practice we do.

I think, beyond that, Taiwan is part of a sort of frontline activity for the whole Indo-Pacific first island chain that China may be presenting challenges to. So, we think of our own posture, our own readiness related not just to a Taiwan contingency but broader challenges, so we are looking at that now through the interpretation and implementation of our National Defense Strategy.

Talking about particular weapons, how about selling F-35s to Taiwan? That has been in the news and rumored for quite a while.

I am not in a position to talk about future sales, but we will act in accordance with our law which says, based on the military balance, based on the threat, we’ll make things available to Taiwan that are needed.

Has cooperation in building the Taiwanese indigenous submarine already been going on or started?

My understanding is that Taiwan has stood up a program and has appropriated funds. I think they are still in a research and development stage.

There is no plan for the United States to sell submarines itself to Taiwan?

Well, in April 2001, we committed to assist Taiwan in the acquisition of diesel electric submarines. We don’t make diesel electric submarines, so how we fulfill that commitment of assisting Taiwan in the acquisition of diesel electric submarines is still to be determined, but that is a commitment that was made.

I think you may have already mentioned on some occasions that the way of providing weapons to Taiwan – well, in the past it was like a package every year. But the United States decided to change the way of providing weapons to Taiwan in some way. Could you elaborate a little more on that?

Well, what we have said publicly is that we will treat Taiwan as a normal Foreign Military Sales (FMS) partner. So that means when they see a requirement, they can put in a letter of request and within a certain amount of time, they will get a response. That is how we treat Foreign Military Sales partners around the world, which is different than waiting and bundling and having years go by before things are announced. It is maybe a change back to the way things were done in the past.

Any response from the Chinese government on this?

They tend to protest anything we do with Taiwan.

About North Korea, of course now this is a State Department effort. But on the other hand, we notice North Korea’s non-movement in taking steps on dismantling their nuclear arsenals, or all in all denuclearization. So, what is the Defense Department’s (DoD) assessment on the status of North Korean denuclearization? 

We’re focused on supporting the State Department and the diplomacy. We have particular roles attached to that and very much in partnership with Japan, sanctions enforcement and particularly focusing on disruption of ship-to-ship transfers of illegal and illicit materials and goods. We’ll leave it to the diplomats to try to negotiate the denuclearization, so we will focus just on the DoD role here.

Has DoD detected any concrete moves or concrete steps that indicate North Korea is actually heading toward denuclearization? Like dismantling particular sites or something like that? 

I will just refer you to what the State Department has said on that.

On South Korea, in order to facilitate the diplomatic process, the U.S. and South Korea actually suspended some major joint exercises. How about next spring’s major exercises, like Ulchi Freedom Guardian and others? 

The only decisions that have been made are the ones that have been announced. And the future decisions, as Secretary Mattis has said, will be determined based on North Korea negotiating in good faith. So, so we will see how the State Department reads that, and then we will make future decisions.

There are concerns in Japan and South Korea that sometime in the future we will not know how the negotiation will unfold – we can just hope for the best solution. But, in that process there are concerns that the United States may pull out or actually decrease its number of troops on the Korean Peninsula. That kind of a change in numbers of troops is always a concern in the region.

I haven’t seen anybody in a position to speak authoritatively who has said we have a plan to reduce troops. And, I think that has been true of our ally in Seoul as well, all the way up to and including President Moon, who has said that our alliance has purpose beyond just the immediate North Korea threat and that he is not in a position now to say that we want a troop decrease. So, thus far the decisions we have made on the exercises have been in order to give the diplomats space. We may make future decisions, we will see how the negotiations go, but there is no discussion about troop levels and the numbers of troops.

Could you explain to ordinary readers why the United States’ staying in South Korea is very important? The significance of the U.S. troops in the R.O.K.?

The immediate priority is to help South Korea protect its country, protect its people, its sovereignty from a North Korea threat. Although we are in the process of talking about denuclearization, nothing has been done to reduce the conventional capabilities. There are some confidence building measures, but the North Koreans have not done anything to degrade any of their conventional capability. So, that is still a significant threat.

I think, beyond that, we have shared regional and global interests. The U.S. and the R.O.K. have fought alongside one another in every major war of the 20th century and into the 21st century. The R.O.K. was the third largest contributor to our forces in Iraq after the invasion in 2003. So, it is an alliance that has, in a way, become expeditionary, not just focused on the Korean Peninsula. So, for us to be there, to train and exercise with South Korean allies gives us the capability to be expeditionary.

And also, if you could talk about Okinawa. This is not a thing that you might comment on, but the Governor of Okinawa was elected, and he has his view on the bases on Okinawa. Could you address how important the bases are for the security of the region, not just the security of Japan and the United States?

Japan is our most important ally in the Asia Pacific region, not only because of the capabilities that Japan has, but because of the grand bargain that we reached in our treaty long ago, which was we could use our forward-deployed forces in Japan to affect security throughout Asia. That is a unique arrangement.

And we do have security challenges throughout Asia. We’ve mentioned the East China Sea, Taiwan, South China Sea, threats to sovereignty of maritime Asia. And so, having that ability to be forward deployed and to train and exercise in those environments, gives us an ability to affect security throughout the region in a way that our other allies and forward presence doesn’t afford us. So, it is absolutely critical.

Just one more thing, going back to the East China Sea, you say you don’t make a decision based on the paint on those [Chinese] vessels – you see them for their actions?

Right, we are most concerned with what their activity is, what their mission is, and their purpose, not what color the hull is painted.

How do you react when they are disguised as fishermen and the Coast Guard law enforcement is protecting ‘fishermen’ that are a disguised militia. But, in fact, what they are doing is totally different. Actually, the boats are taking advantage of their appearance as fishermen, so the United States or Japan cannot engage them the way they could a military. That is always posing a problem to the Japanese Self Defense Force. So, would there be any way to adequately deal with those forces?

Well, as I said, we don’t make a distinction based on the color of the hull. It is the activity. And this has, by the way, been communicated to the Chinese directly as well – that we are not interested in talking about three different forces if they are all involved in the same activity. So, our response in support of the principles of a free and open Indo-Pacific, our response in terms of supporting our ally in Japan, will be appropriate for the activity, not what color the hull is painted.

(Click here to read the interview in Japanese.)

Interviewer: Yoshinari Kurose, Washington Bureau Chief

シュライバー国防次官補、民兵漁船「中国海軍と区別しない」

2018.11.22 13:21

シュライバー米国防次官補(東アジア太平洋担当)

【ワシントン=黒瀬悦成】米国防総省でアジア太平洋の安全保障を担当するシュライバー次官補は21日、産経新聞の単独会見に応じた。シュライバー氏は、尖閣諸島(沖縄県石垣市)周辺で活動を活発化させている中国海警局の公船や中国軍系民兵が乗り組んだ漁船に関し、「中国の領有権を主張して日本を圧迫する目的で活動しているのであれば、中国海軍の艦船と区別しない」と述べ、厳然と対処していく姿勢を強調した。

シュライバー氏は、「尖閣諸島は日本の施政権下にあり、日米安全保障条約(第5条に基づく米国の対日防衛義務)の適用対象であり、米国は同盟国として日本を支えていく」と言明した上で、「中国船の船体の色(が海軍の灰色か海警局の白色か)よりも、これらの船の任務や目的が何かに関して最大の懸念を抱いている」と指摘した。

また、中国船が「自由で開かれたインド太平洋」の原則や日本の施政権を脅かす行動をとった場合は「適切に対処する」と警告した。米国として一連の立場を「中国に直接伝えた」とも明らかにした。

同氏は、東シナ海をめぐる中国の行動は「日本にとり最重要に近い懸案だ」と指摘し、日本による尖閣防衛に向けた取り組み強化を支援していく姿勢を強調。日本が年末に策定する2019年度から5カ年の中期防衛力整備計画(中期防)の内容を「注視している」とも語った。

さらに「日本はアジア太平洋地域で最も重要な同盟国だ」と指摘。沖縄の米軍基地は「米国がアジア全域で懸案を抱える中、米軍の前進配備と現地での訓練・演習を可能にしている点で決定的に重要だ」と訴えた。

北朝鮮問題に関しては、「交渉は外交官に任せる」として国務省主導の非核化協議を支援する立場を打ち出す一方、「北朝鮮との間では幾つかの信頼醸成措置が取られたものの、北朝鮮は通常兵力を全く削減していない」と指摘し、「北朝鮮は引き続き重大な脅威だ」と訴え、米韓同盟に基づく米軍駐留の必要性を強調。在韓米軍の削減をめぐる議論は「現時点で一切行われていない」とした。

非核化協議を進展させる狙いから中止されている米韓の大規模合同演習を来年春以降に再開するかについては「北朝鮮の交渉態度が誠実かどうか次第だ」と指摘。これに関し国防総省は21日、今後の演習に関し、規模を縮小して実施するなどの選択肢を検討しているとする声明を発表した。

ランドールシュライバー米国防次官補 西部オレゴン州出身。海軍情報士官として湾岸戦争(1991年)などに参加後、ハーバード大で修士号(公共政策)取得。ブッシュ(子)政権下の2003~05年に国務次官補代理(東アジア・太平洋問題担当)を務めるなどした後、コンサルタント会社「アーミテージ・インターナショナル」をリチャード・アーミテージ元国務副長官らと共同設立した。アジア地域を専門とする政策研究機関「プロジェクト2049研究所」の代表も務めた。18年1月から現職。

***

Andrew S. Erickson, “Shining a Spotlight: Revealing China’s Maritime Militia to Deter its Use,” The National Interest, 25 November 2018.

How China’s maritime militia threatens U.S. and allied interests—and how to counter it.

At the U.S.-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue press conference on November 9, Defense Secretary James Mattis made a great contribution by using his top-level authority to shine a spotlight on China’s third sea force, the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM): “We… discussed the importance of all military, law enforcement, and civilian vessels and aircraft—including those in the PLA Navy, the Chinese Coast Guard, and the PRC Maritime Militia—to operate in a safe and professional manner in accordance with international law as we seek peaceful resolution of all disputes in the South China Sea.”

An authoritative public statement by the Secretary of Defense—the very first by anyone at his level—is extremely positive and long overdue. The PAFMM is eroding U.S. and allied interests by operating surreptitiously in the “gray zone” between peace and war, an approach Chinese sources term “War without Gun Smoke.” U.S.-China maritime rivalry is intensifying and almost any conceivable crisis or contingency would involve PAFMM forces. They offer a tempting tool for Beijing to complicate Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS) and related U.S. patrols. This People’s Liberation Army (PLA)-controlled force harasses foreign ships, including those of the U.S. government; and mans the front lines of other international sea incidents to further disputed sovereignty claims. Yet it has received far too little top-level scrutiny and official public pushback. Now it is time to build on Secretary Mattis’s statement with further understanding and countermeasures.

China’s Gray Zone Challenge:

China has three sea forces, each an Armed Forces subcomponent: the PLA Navy (PLAN)China Coast Guard (CCG), and PAFMM. Each has the world’s most ships in its category. They increasingly operate in concert under unified command and control. For decades, the PLA recruited marine industry workers (many fishermen), trained them regularly with their vessels as PAFMM units, and activated them for missions on demand. Recently, full-time PAFMM units have recruited ex-PLA personnel with generous salaries but no fishing responsibilities. They conduct operational deployments in disputed areas using larger vessels with mast-mounted water cannons for spraying, reinforced hulls for ramming, and reported weaponsstores. Despite attempting to operate below the radar, Beijing has no plausible deniability for the PAFMM’s activities: the PLA oversees its doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, and facilities. It operates in disputed sea areas and serves Beijing’s interests through the PLA operational chain of command under Commander-in-Chief Xi Jinping himself.

By choosing to employ soldiers disguised as civilian mariners, not conventional naval forces, Beijing has expanded the geographic scope of its influence and control without resorting to war, a classic case of “winning without fighting.” Use of the PAFMM tool is effective because it exploits foreign ignorance, inattention, and restraints. It is a key component of Chinese sea power, but most people do not know that. It operates actively in disputed areas and harasses ships of the U.S. and its allies and partners, but many encounters are not reported publicly.

The fundamental threat posed by the PAFMM is its ability to help China expand and strengthen its control over strategically important maritime space, with little cost or risk. For decades, part-time elite PAFMM units have helped to further Beijing’s disputed claims in international sea incidents throughout the South China Sea. Since 2006, relying heavily on the PAFMM, China has dramatically increased efforts to restrict foreign activities in strategically vital areas of the Western Pacific. It has aggressively challenged the legitimate maritime activities of U.S. allies and partners. It has also targeted and harassed U.S. Navy ships, yet faced no consequences.

In contingencies involving the PAFMM, U.S. and allied naval and coast guard officers will need to be able to make quick decisions regarding how to respond to this force but may be ill-equipped to do so. The U.S. has no way to match the PAFMM symmetrically, but the force itself has significant limitations and vulnerabilities. The U.S. government can and should do a much better job revealing the military nature of this perfidious force. With several low-cost policy initiatives, the U.S. could effectively curtail China’s use of the PAFMM in operations detrimental to U.S. interests and provide more options for escalation avoidance when encountering PAFMM forces at sea without harming U.S. interests. The following recommendations can help to take this under-recognized China-military-controlled force off the table as much as possible.

Recommendations:

While the U.S. has allowed it to operate surprisingly unchallenged in the shadows, the PAFMM has many weaknesses. Optimized for cost efficiency and covertness, it is inherently limited in training, sensors, situational awareness, autonomy, initiative, and morale. Open source research reveals no equivalent to commander’s intent, self-generation of courses of action, or operating in isolation from supporting forces—key sources of initiative that empower naval forces and make them harder to contend with. The PAFMM is therefore unlikely to improvise well or continue operations in unexpected situations. Attempting to rectify these weaknesses would change its appearance and erode its perceived benefits—making it more expensive and conspicuous while showcasing more unmistakably its true military nature. The more clearly U.S. and allied officials display understanding of the PAFMM and its vulnerabilities, the more Chinese decision-makers and militiamen alike will doubt its ability to intervene without self-risk, escalation, and/or mission failure. Chinese leaders deeply fear failure in front of foreigners, especially if their citizens could become aware of it. To deter harmful activities, U.S. officials should reveal the PAFMM publicly, hold China to international standards of seamanship, and treat its three sea forces holistically.

Develop and disseminate a public narrative to reveal, counter, and deter:

Sunlight is the best disinfectant against a force customized to thrive in the shadows. The most important thing that the U.S. can do to better counter PAFMM threats is to educate sailors, the American public, and allies/partners on the nature of the force and the challenge it poses. This requires regaining the strategic initiative by laying down a “Googleable” trail of online information rapidly accessible to all, particularly when the issue rises to the forefront. To preempt and counteract propaganda, the U.S. must get out in front of the problem with its own authoritative statements, including a fact sheet and encounter documentation website. Open-source researchers, including at the U.S. Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI), have already published extensive scholarship to support such an effort. The Office of Naval Intelligence could be asked to fill in the gaps. This involves revealing egregious Chinese behavior, on a day-to-day basis, to deter future activity by the PAFMM. Leadership could do so by helping Fleet Commanders more quickly declassify and approve for public release PAFMM-related photos, videos, and other data coming off U.S. ships. Public reports, public affairs releases, and top officials’ statements should all contain robust coverage of the PAFMM. To remove the camouflage of Chinese deception and spin, accurate terminology (not “civilian, irregular, innocent, [merely] fishermen,” etc.) is essential.

There should also be a crisis response plan—with complete communications strategy and media guidance ready to go—before an incident erupts. U.S. officials should be mindful that Beijing will likely have ready prepackaged propaganda, deployable via powerful state media mouthpieces that the U.S. lacks.

Reexamine rules of engagement (ROE) and signal to China accordingly:

The U.S. should state, both with Chinese interlocutors and publicly for external credibility and reassurance, that:

  1. It expects all three Chinese sea forces—including the PAFMM—to abide at all times by the same internationally recognized standards of law, seamanship (rules of the road regulations), and communications to which U.S. sea forces adhere.
  2. The PAFMM will not be given a pass if it interferes with U.S. government operations or participates in any coercive actions in international waters.
  3. Any elements that ignore repeated warnings by U.S. government vessels to desist from disruptive activities that compromise the safety, operations, or mission accomplishment of any U.S. government vessel will be treated as military-controlled and dealt with accordingly.

Treat China’s sea forces holistically: link behavior of all three to U.S. interaction with them:

Even if Chinese interlocutors profess ignorance or dismiss these matters initially, American resolve to impose linkage will make them report back and inform organizational interests. Professions of ignorance signify a lack of seriousness about, and lack of support for, the U.S. Navy-PLAN relationship. The PLAN should not be allowed to “bear hug” the U.S. Navy for prestige and best practices as the “good cop” of naval diplomacy while the CCG and PAFMM “bad cops” (which the PLAN helps train) do the dirty work of bullying neighbors and harassing U.S. Navy vessels. To ensure safety and accident avoidance, the CCG and PAFMM must adhere to the same Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) to which the PLAN has publicly committed itself—together with other international standards of seamanship. The U.S. Navy should also continue to promote a binding regional code of conduct with robust rules of the road. Any Chinese failure to cooperate should trigger an explicit bottom-up review of activities that the PLAN itself values, such as naval diplomacy and other prestigious interactions.

To support these efforts, the author offers the following memorandum, which he recommends be issued with U.S. government authority.

Fact Sheet: The People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia ( PAFMM)

As the National Security Strategy of the United States of America 2017 emphasizes, China is engaged in continuous competition with America—neither fully “at peace” nor “at war.” Per this national guidance, we will raise our competitive game to meet that challenge, in part by addressing the potential risks to U.S. 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.

While virtually unique and publicly obscure, China’s Maritime Militia is known clearly to the U.S. government, which monitors it closely. A component of the People’s Armed Forces, it operates under a direct military chain of command to conduct state-sponsored activities. The PAFMM is locally supported, but answers to the very top of China’s military bureaucracy: Commander-in-Chief Xi Jinping himself.

China employs the PAFMM in gray zone operations, or “low-intensity maritime rights protection struggles,” at a level designed to frustrate effective response by the other parties involved. China has used it to advance its disputed sovereignty claims in international sea incidents throughout the South and East China Seas. This undermines vital American interests in maintaining the regional status quo, including the rules and norms on which peace and prosperity depend.

PAFMM units have participated in manifold maritime incidents in the South and East China Seas. Publicly-documented examples include China’s 1974 seizure of the Western Paracel Islands from Vietnam; 1978 swarming into the Senkaku Islands’ territorial sea; involvement in the occupation and development of Mischief Reef resulting in a 1995 incident with the Philippines; harassment of various Vietnamese government/survey vessels, including the Bin Minh and Viking; harassment of USNS Impeccable (2009) and Howard O. Lorenzen (2014); participation in the 2012 seizure of Scarborough Reef from the Philippines and 2014 blockade of Second Thomas Shoal2014 repulsion of Vietnamese vessels from disputed waters surrounding CNOOC’s HYSY-981 oil rig; large surge of ships near the Senkakus in 2016; and layered “cabbage-style” envelopment of the Philippines-claimed Sandy Cay shoal near Thitu Island, where China has sustained a presence of at least two PAFMM vessels since August 2017.

The elite units engaged in these incidents incorporate marine industry workers (e.g., fishermen) directly into China’s armed forces. While retaining day jobs, they are organized and trained in the PAFMM and often by China’s Navy, and activated on demand. Since 2015, starting in Sansha City in the Paracels, China has been developing more professionalized, militarized, well-paid full-time units including military recruits, crewing 84 purpose-built vessels with mast-mounted water cannons for spraying and reinforced steel hulls for ramming. Lacking fishing responsibilities, personnel train for peacetime and wartime contingencies, including with light arms, and deploy regularly to disputed South China Sea features even during fishing moratoriums.

There is no plausible deniability: the PAFMM is a state-organized, -developed, and -controlled force operating under a direct military chain of command to conduct Chinese state-sponsored activities. From now on, the United States expects all three Chinese sea forces—including the PAFMM—to abide at all times by the same internationally-recognized standards of law, seamanship, and communications to which U.S. maritime forces adhere; including the International Collision Regulations (COLREGS) and other international regulations governing allowable conduct by ships at sea.

Bottom line: Henceforth, the United States will not tolerate any attempt by the PAFMM to interfere with or compromise the safety, operations, or mission accomplishment of any U.S. government vessel.

Dr. Andrew S. Erickson is a professor of strategy in the U.S. Naval War College (NWC)’s China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) and an Associate in Research at Harvard University’s John King Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies. Since 2014, he and his colleague Conor M. Kennedy have been conducting and publishing in-depth research on the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM) and briefing key U.S. and allied decision-makers on the subject. In 2017 Erickson received NWC’s inaugural  Civilian Faculty Research Excellence Award, in part for his pioneering contributions in this area. You can follow him on Twitter: @AndrewSErickson.​

***

SECDEF Mattis calls for “PRC Maritime Militia to operate in a safe and professional manner in accordance with international law…”

Important statement from Secretary Mattis at U.S.-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue (D&SD) press conference today, Friday 9 November 2018:

“We… discussed the importance of all military, law enforcement & civilian vessels & aircraft—including those in the PLA Navy, Chinese Coast Guard & PRC Maritime Militia—to operate in a safe & professional manner in accordance with international law as we seek peaceful resolution of all disputes in the South China Sea.”

Secretary Mattis made a great contribution by using his top-level authority to shine a spotlight on Chinas Maritime Militia. This PLA-controlled third Chinese sea force harasses foreign ships, including those of the U.S. government; and participates in other international sea incidents to further disputed sovereignty claims. Yet it has received far too little top-level scrutiny and official public pushback. An authoritative public statement by the Secretary of Defense—the very first by anyone in that position, to my knowledge—is extremely positive and long overdue, in my view.

Other D&SD principals were Secretary Mattis’s counterpart, State Councilor and Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe; and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and his counterpart, Director of the Office of Foreign Affairs of the Central Commission of the Communist Party of China Yang Jiechi. The State Department, which hosted the event, lists further information here.

Click here to watch the press conference via the video the State Department posted on Facebook.

Click here for the official transcript, which includes the following full text of Secretary Mattis’s remarks:

SECRETARY MATTIS: Well, good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. And it’s been a pleasure to join Secretary Pompeo in welcoming Director Yang and Minister Wei to Washington for our U.S.-China Diplomatic & Security Dialogue. And we thank you both for making the long trip, along with your delegation, from Beijing.

Your visit reminds us that we build on a deep history between the United States and China, one that stretches back to the earliest days of our American experiment in democracy. Our meeting today is evidence of America’s efforts to work toward a brighter future for both our peoples. President Trump’s National Security Strategy makes it clear that competition does not mean hostility, nor must it lead to conflict. While our two Pacific nations may not always agree, we recognize it serves both our people’s interests to cooperate where we can.

High-level dialogues like this help diminish the space between us as we explore areas where we share common interest and common purpose. To that end, as Secretary Pompeo stated, today we discussed our shared desire to achieve the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea. We reaffirmed our nation’s commitments to enforcing the unanimous Security Council resolutions in pursuit of that goal for the good of all mankind.

As the Secretary of State touched on, we also discussed the importance for all military, law enforcement, and civilian vessels and aircraft, including those in the PLA Navy, the Chinese Coast Guard, and the PRC Maritime Militia, to operate in a safe and professional manner, in accordance with international law, as we seek peaceful resolution of all disputes in the South China Sea. Through candid discussions, we sought ways to lessen tension, maintain open lines of communication between our militaries, and reduce the risk of miscalculation. And we made clear that the United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows.

The U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, one that is underpinned by the rules-based international order and regional stability, is unwavering. Director Yang, Minister Wei, within our pursuit to realize this vision for the region, I echo Secretary of State Pompeo’s words that the United States seeks a constructive, reciprocal, and results-oriented U.S.-China relationship, one that benefits the Indo-Pacific and the world.

We continue our commitment to explore new areas of cooperation on strategic issues of mutual concern like space, cyber, and nuclear capabilities, as well as reinforce the importance of military-to-military exchanges for our bilateral relationship. For we recognize our military ties can serve as a source of stability for our two nations as long as we remain transparent and communicate sincerely with one another.

Along that line, the United States is committed to finalizing a military-to-military crisis deconfliction and communication framework with China while we seek ways to implement and enhance the existing confidence-building measures, including what we call the Joint Staff Dialogue Mechanism.

Director Yang, Minister Wei, thank you again for coming to Washington today. Minister Wei, I look forward to continuing this morning’s constructive conversation at our bilateral meeting this afternoon. And I now invite you to make your remarks.

***

SECRETARY MATTIS: Sure. In regards to our exercises and operations in the South China Sea, the United States adheres strictly to international law and the international maritime rules of the road, and we continue to operate anywhere in international waters, international air space, as all nations are entitled to. So the most important thing is that we all pay equal attention to international law.

***

Secretary Mattis’s points were buttressed by content from the State Department’s releasefrom the dialogue:

South China Sea: The two sides committed to support peace and stability in the South China Sea, the peaceful resolution of disputes, and freedom of navigation and overflight and other lawful uses of the sea in accordance with international law. Both sides committed to ensure air and maritime safety, and manage risks in a constructive manner. The United States discussed the importance of all military, law enforcement, and civilian vessels and aircraft operating in a safe and professional manner in accordance with international law. The United States called on China to withdraw its missile systems from disputed features in the Spratly Islands, and reaffirmed that all countries should avoid addressing disputes through coercion or intimidation. The United States remains committed to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows.

***

2018 Report to Congress of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, One Hundred Fifteenth Congress, Second Session, 14 November 2018.

Click here to read the full text.

Report PDFs:

2018 Annual Report to Congress.pdf

Executive Summary 2018 Annual Report to Congress.pdf

2018 Recommendations.pdf

Chapters: 

Chapter 1 Section 1- Year in Review, Economics and Trade.pdf

Chapter 1 Section 2- Tools to Address U.S.-China Economic Challenges.pdf

Chapter 1 Section 3- China’s Agricultural Policies-Trade, Investment, Safety, and Innovation.pdf

Chapter 2 Section 1- Year in Review, Security and Foreign Affairs.pdf

Chapter 2 Section 2- China’s Military Reorganization and Modernization, Implications for the United States.pdf

Chapter 3 Section 1- Belt and Road Initative.pdf

Chapter 3 Section 2- China’s Relations with U.S. Allies and Partners.pdf

Chapter 3 Section 3- China and Taiwan.pdf

Chapter 3 Section 4- China and Hong Kong.pdf

Chapter 3 Section 5- China’s Evolving North Korea Strategy.pdf

Chapter 4 Section 1- Next Generation Connectivity.pdf

Watch the livestream here.

Selected content:

p. 224

The China Coast Guard and People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia have both expanded in number and quality in recent years, further increasing the challenges faced by the United States and China’s neighbors operating in the region. According to DOD, since 2010 the China Coast Guard’s fleet of large ships (over 1,000 tons) has doubled from around 60 to more than 130 ships, making it the largest in the world and allowing it to operate concurrently in multiple disputed areas. Its latest ships have more capabilities, including helicopter docks, larger guns and water cannons, and improved endurance. The maritime militia comprises civilian fishing boats and other ships trained, directed, and equipped by the PLA. It has also built larger, more capable ships equipped with water cannons and reinforced hulls. Together with the PLA Navy, the China Coast Guard and maritime militia greatly outnumber the maritime forces of China’s neighbors.97

  1. U.S. Department of Defense, Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2018, May 16, 2018, 71–72; Andrew Erickson, “Numbers Matter: China’s Three ‘Navies’ Each Have the World’s Most Ships,” National Interest, February 26, 2018.

p. 362

  • Ships: The PLA Navy has more than 300 surface combatants, submarines, and missile-armed patrol craft, in addition to China’s highly capable coast guard and maritime militia.184 4 Taiwan, on the other hand, has 92 naval combatants, comprising four submarines—two of which are only used for training—and 88 surface ships.† 185

†Taiwan’s coast guard is in the midst of a ten-year shipbuilding program that will bring its forces to 173 ships. Taiwan does not have a maritime militia. Mrityunjoy Mazumdar, “Taiwanese Coast Guard Launches OPV amid Ongoing Force Development Program,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, May 28, 2015.

***

Conor Kennedy, “The Struggle for Blue Territory: Chinese Maritime Militia Grey-Zone Operations,” RUSI Journal 163.5 (October/November 2018): 1–11.

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. … … …

***

Japan MoD Releases White Paper: Defense of Japan 2018—Mentions China Maritime Militia for 2nd Year in a Row

Defense of Japan 2018 (Tokyo: Japan Ministry of Defense, 28 August 2018).

Full Text (Japanese) (580 pages)

Click here to download a cached copy.

Digest (English) (20 pages)

Click here to download a cached copy.

MARITIME MILITIA COVERAGE IN DEFENSE OF JAPAN 2018

3節中国

Section 3: China

pp. 89-123

 p. 92

一方で、国防費については、内訳の詳細を明らかにしていない8。

8 国防白書「2008年中国の国防」及び「2010年中国の国防」では、それぞれ2007年度、2009年度の国防費の支出に限り、人員生活費、訓練維持費、装備費のそれぞれについて、現役部隊、予備役部隊、民兵別の内訳が明らかにされたが、最近はそのような説明も行われていない。

 p. 93

軍事態勢

5) Military Posture

中国の軍事力は、人民解放軍、人民武装警察部隊(武警)16 と民兵17 から構成されており、中央軍事委員会の指導及び指揮を受けるものとされている。人民解放軍は、陸・海・空軍とロケット軍などからなり、中国共産党が創建、指導する人民軍隊とされている。

17 平時においては経済建設などに従事するが、有事には戦時後方支援任務を負う。国防白書「2002年中国の国防」では、「軍事機関の指揮のもとで、戦時は常備軍との合同作戦、独自作戦、常備軍の作戦に対する後方勤務保障提供及び兵員補充などの任務を担い、平時は戦備勤務、災害救助、社会秩序維持などの任務を担当する」とされる。12(平成24)年10月9日付解放軍報によれば2010年時点の基幹民兵数は600万人とされている。

p. 99

また、中国の軍隊以外の武装力である民兵の中でも、いわゆる海上民兵が中国の海洋権益擁護のための尖兵的役割を果たしているとの指摘もある41。海上民兵については、南シナ海での活動などが指摘され42、漁民や離島住民などにより組織されているとされているが、その実態の詳細は明らかにされていない。しかし、海上において中国の「軍・警・民の全体的な力を十全に発揮」43 する必要性が強調されていることも踏まえ、こうした非対称的戦力にも注目する必要がある44

41 13(平成25)年4月、習近平国家主席が海南省の海上民兵を激励した際、海上民兵に対し、遠洋の情報を集め、島嶼建設支援作業を積極的に行うよう指示し、「君たちは海洋権益を守るために先陣の役割を果たしている」と語ったと言われている。

42 例えば、09(平成21)年3月、南シナ海の公海上で中国海軍艦艇などが米海軍調査船「インペッカブル」を妨害した際、同船のソナーを取り外そうとした漁船には海上民兵が乗船していたと指摘されている。また、14(平成26)年5月から7月にかけて大水深掘削リグ「海洋石油981」が西沙諸島南方で試掘活動を行った際、同リグの護衛船団として、海上民兵が乗船する鋼鉄製漁船も進出していたとの指摘がある。

43 16(平成28)年8月、常万全国防部長(当時)が浙江省の海上民兵装備などを視察した際、「『戦い勝利できる』という要求を保証するという観点から、軍・警・民の全体的な力を十全に発揮」する必要性について訓示した。

44 中国の海上民兵については国際法上の地位が不明確であるとの指摘がある。15(平成27)年11月、スウィフト米太平洋艦隊司令官(当時)は、呉勝利中国海軍司令員(当時)との会談に際し、中国の法執行機関と海上民兵を含めた海上兵力がプロフェッショナルに、かつ国際法規に従って行動することの重要性を強調した。

 

DETAILS FROM DEFENSE OF JAPAN 2017

Japan Defense White Paper mentions China Maritime Militia (p. 95):

  • Part of China’s Armed Forces
  • Xi visited
  • SCS ops.

FN 51-54:

  • Xi visited in 2013
  • Incidents include 2009 Impeccable & 2014 HYSY-981 oil rig
  • DefMin Chang visited in 2016
  • ADM Swift stressed w/ADM Wu

***

Andrew S. Erickson, “Exposed: Pentagon Report Spotlights China’s Maritime Militia,” The National Interest, 20 August 2018.

For countering China’s shadowy Third Sea Force—the Maritime Militia—sunlight is the best disinfectant and demonstrated awareness is an important element of deterrence. This year’s Department of Defense report to Congress offers both.

Finally, some good news from Washington! Last Thursday the Pentagon released its annual report to Congress on military and security developments involving the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The single most important revelation alone justifies the 145-page report’s $108,000 cost many times over. Even more than when last year’s report mentioned it for the first time, the U.S. government has officially deployed the formidable credibility of the world’s foremost intelligence collection and analytical capabilities to shine a spotlight and expose the shadowy People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM). Previously, in beltway bureaucracy, the PAFMM was mentioned by Ronald O’Rourke in his Congressional Research Service report and by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, which rightly recommended that the Department of Defense address this vital subject. Indeed, there is no substitute for the Pentagon’s credibility in this regard. By releasing these important facts officially and authoritatively, the 2018 report has performed a signal service.

Beijing uses the PAFMM to advance its disputed sovereignty claims across the South and East China Seas. The Maritime Militia, China’s third sea force, often operates in concert with China’s first sea force (the Navy) and second sea force (the Coast Guard). In an unprecedented accompanying Fact Sheet, the Pentagon’s 2018 report offers a recent example: “China . . . is willing to employ coercive measures to advance its interests and mitigate other countries’ opposition. . . . In August 2017, China conducted a coordinated PLA Navy (PLAN), China Coast Guard (CCG), and People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia patrol around Thitu Island and planted a flag on Sandy Cay, a sandbar within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef and Thitu Island, possibly in response to the Philippines’ reported plans to upgrade its runway on Thitu Island.”

Each PRC sea service is the maritime division of one of China’s three armed services, and each is the world’s largest by number of ships. “The PLAN, CCG, and People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM) form the largest maritime force in the Indo-Pacific,” the report emphasizes. First, “The PLAN is the region’s largest navy, with more than 300 surface combatants, submarines, amphibious ships, patrol craft, and specialized types.” It is also the world’s largest navy numerically; as of August 17, 2018, the U.S. Navy has 282 deployable battle-force ships. Second, “Since 2010, the CCG’s fleet of large patrol ships (more than 1,000 tons) has more than doubled from approximately 60 to more than 130 ships,” the report adds, “making it by far the largest coast guard force in the world and increasing its capacity to conduct simultaneous, extended offshore operations in multiple disputed areas.” Third, Beijing has what is clearly the world’s largest and most capable maritime militia. One of the few maritime militia forces in existence today at all, 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 roughly equivalent force with a roughly equivalent mission. Moreover, when it comes to forces at sea—militia or otherwise—Hanoi is simply not in the same league as Beijing and cannot compete either quantitatively or qualitatively.

Beijing’s use of the PAFMM undermines vital American and international interests in maintaining the regional status quo, including the rules and norms on which peace and prosperity depend. PAFMM forces engage in gray zone operations, at a level specifically designed to frustrate effective response by the other parties involved. One PRC source terms this PAFMM participation in “low-intensity maritime rights protection struggles”; the Pentagon’s report describes broader PAFMM and CCG “use of low-intensity coercion in maritime disputes.” “During periods of tension, official statements and state media seek to portray China as reactive,” the report explains. “China uses an opportunistically timed progression of incremental but intensifying steps to attempt to increase effective control over disputed areas and avoid escalation to military conflict.” In particular, “PAFMM units enable low-intensity coercion activities to advance territorial and maritime claims.” Because the PAFMM is virtually unique and tries to operate deceptively under the radar, it has remained publicly obscure for far too long even as it trolls with surprising success for advances in sovereignty disputes in seas along China’s contested periphery.

Fortunately, the U.S. government is well aware of the PAFMM’s predations and monitors it closely. In providing such detailed coverage of the PAFMM in its latest report, the Pentagon has strongly validated key findings from the Naval War College China Maritime Studies Institute’s (CMSI) open source research project on that subject, which is now entering its fifth year. In what follows, I share CMSI’s conclusions and the related text in the report.

A component of the People’s Armed Forces, China’s PAFMM operates under a direct military chain of command to conduct state-sponsored activities. The PAFMM is locally supported, but answers to the very top of China’s military bureaucracy: Commander-in-Chief Xi Jinping himself.

Part-time PAFMM units incorporate marine industry workers (e.g., fishermen) directly into China’s armed forces. As the Pentagon explains, “The PAFMM is a subset of China’s national militia, an armed reserve force of civilians available for mobilization. . . . Militia units organize around towns, villages, urban sub-districts, and enterprises, and vary widely in composition and mission.” While retaining day jobs, personnel (together with their ships) that meet the standards for induction into the PAFMM are organized and trained within the militia—as well as, in many cases, by China’s Navy—and activated on demand. As part of such efforts, “A large number of PAFMM vessels train with and assist the PLAN and CCG in tasks such as safeguarding maritime claims, surveillance and reconnaissance, fishery protection, logistics support, and search and rescue.” To further support and encourage PAFMM efforts, “The government subsidizes various local and provincial commercial organizations to operate militia vessels to perform ‘official’ missions on an ad hoc basis outside of their regular civilian commercial activities.”

Since 2015, starting in Sansha City in the Paracel Islands, China has been developing a new full-time PAFMM contingent: more professionalized, militarized, well-paid units including military recruits, crewing purpose-built vessels with mast-mounted water cannons for spraying and reinforced hulls for ramming. “In the past, the PAFMM rented fishing vessels from companies or individual fishermen, but China has built a state-owned fishing fleet for at least part of its maritime militia force in the South China Sea,” the Pentagon expounds. “The Hainan provincial government, adjacent to the South China Sea”—whose important role in PAFMM development my colleague Conor M. Kennedy and I explain herehere, and here—“ordered the building of 84 large militia fishing vessels with reinforced hulls and ammunition storage, which the militia received by the end of 2016, along with extensive subsidies to encourage frequent operations in the Spratly Islands.” The report elaborates: “This particular PAFMM unit is also China’s most professional, paid salaries independent of any clear commercial fishing responsibilities, and recruited from recently separated veterans.” Lacking fishing responsibilities, personnel train for peacetime and wartime contingencies, including with light arms, and deploy regularly to disputed South China Sea features even during fishing moratoriums.

China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), Coast Guard, and Government Maritime Forces 2018 Recognition and Identification Guide (Suitland, MD: Office of Naval Intelligence, July 2018).
(EXCERPT SHOWING THREE TYPES OF SANSHA CITY MARITIME MILITIA VESSELS)

In July, the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence issued the China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), Coast Guard, and Government Maritime Forces 2018 Recognition and Identification Guide. The excerpt above shows three different types of purpose-built PAFMM vessels operated by the Sansha City Maritime Militia.

PAFMM units have participated in manifold international sea incidents. As the Pentagon attests, “The militia has played significant roles in a number of military campaigns and coercive incidents over the years, including the 2009 harassment of the USNS IMPECCABLE conducting normal operations, the 2012 Scarborough Reef standoff, the 2014 Haiyang Shiyou-981 oil-rig standoff, and a large surge of ships in waters near the Senkakus in 2016.”

The last of these is particularly significant, since it is now one of several publicly documented examples of PAFMM involvement in international incidents in the East China Sea, but had not been conclusively confirmed by previously known open sources. Other examples, as documented in CMSI research to date, include swarming into the Senkaku Islands’ territorial sea in 1978 and harassment of USNS Howard O. Lorenzen in 2014. So, while the vast majority of publicly revealed incidents involving PAFMM forces have occurred throughout the South China Sea, the PAFMM also clearly operates and has been empowered to engage in provocative activities in the East China Sea as well. Any PRC attempts to deny that the PAFMM operates in the East China Sea, including in disruptively close proximity to foreign forces, may therefore be easily disproven. The Pentagon is clear: “The PAFMM . . . is active in the South and East China Seas.”

This conclusive exposure of PAFMM activities in the East China Sea should be an important reminder to policy-makers in Tokyo and Washington alike that Beijing is certain to continue to wield its third sea force as a tool of choice to probe and apply pressure vis-à-vis the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands. These pinnacle-shaped features are the peak Sino-Japanese geographical flashpoint. As the current and previous U.S. administrations have affirmed explicitly, the Senkakus are covered under Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, which states, in part: “Each Party recognizes that an armed attack against either Party in the territories under the administration of Japan would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional provisions and processes.”

American and Japanese analysts and decision-makers should therefore redouble their efforts to share information and develop and implement potential countermeasures concerning the PAFMM. Here, as elsewhere, sunlight is the best disinfectant and demonstrated awareness is an important element of deterrence. Just as the Pentagon’s 2017 report was the first iteration to mention the PAFMM and this latest 2018 edition builds strongly on that foundation, it is to be hoped that the Japan Ministry of Defense’s Defense of Japan 2017 report—which likewise mentioned the PAFMM for the first time, albeit without explicit in-text reference to the East China Sea—will be followed with a 2018 edition offering far more robust PAFMM coverage, including detailed consideration of extant and potential future activities in the East China Sea.

As mentioned above, the Pentagon’s latest report also stresses PAFMM involvement in the layered cabbage-style envelopment of the Philippines-claimed Sandy Cay shoal near Thitu Island in the South China Sea, although it does not mention the fact—confirmed by commercially available AIS data concerning ship movements—that China has sustained a presence of at least two PAFMM vessels around Sandy Cay since August 2017. As the Pentagon emphasizes, the “PLAN, CCG, and PAFMM sometimes conduct coordinated patrols.” Inter-service cooperation applies in peace and war: “In conflict, China may also employ China Coast Guard and People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia ships to support military operations.”

“In the South China Sea,” the report emphasizes, “the PAFMM plays a major role in coercive activities to achieve China’s political goals without fighting, part of broader PRC military doctrine stating confrontational operations short of war can be an effective means of accomplishing political objectives.” Other CMSI-documented examples of international incidents involving the PAFMM there that the report does not mention explicitly include direct participation in China’s 1974 seizure of the Western Paracel Islands from Vietnam; involvement in the occupation and development of Mischief Reef resulting in a 1995 incident with the Philippines; harassment of various Vietnamese government/survey vessels, including the Bin Minh and Viking; participation in the 2014 blockade of Second Thomas Shoal; and engagement in the 2015 maneuvers around USS Lassen.

In conclusion, the Pentagon deserves great credit for employing the full force of its tremendous analytical capabilities and official authority to shine a bright, inescapable spotlight on the PAFMM’s true nature and activities. There is no plausible deniability: the PAFMM is a state-organized, -developed, and -controlled force operating under a direct military chain of command to conduct PRC state-sponsored activities. Publicly revealing the PAFMM’s true nature and activities is an important step in deterring its future use. But far more is needed to counter the pernicious challenge of Beijing’s shadowy but fully knowable third sea force. As the Pentagon’s valuable new report emphasizes, “China continues to exercise low-intensity coercion to advance its claims in the East and South China Seas.”

Dr. Andrew S. Erickson is a professor of strategy in the U.S. Naval War College (NWC)’s China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) and an Associate in Research at Harvard University’s John King Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies. Since 2014, he and his colleague Conor M. Kennedy have been conducting and publishing in-depth research on the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM) and briefing key U.S. and allied decision-makers on the subject. In 2017 Erickson received NWC’s inaugural Civilian Faculty Research Excellence Award, in part for his pioneering contributions in this area.

Image: China’s People Liberation Army (Navy) sailors from the honour guard march during a welcoming ceremony for Fiji’s Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama outside the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing, July 16, 2015. REUTERS/Jason Lee

***

Office of the Secretary of Defense, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2018 (Arlington, VA: Department of Defense, 16 August 2018).

Click here to read the full text of the 2018 report and accompanying Fact Sheet.

CONTENT FROM THE UNPRECEDENTED FACT SHEET ACCOMPANYING THIS YEAR’S (2018) REPORT:

China does not want to jeopardize regional stability, which remains critical to its economic development, but is willing to employ coercive measures to advance its interests and mitigate other countries’ opposition. …

In August 2017, China conducted a coordinated PLA Navy (PLAN), China Coast Guard (CCG), and People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia patrol around Thitu Island and planted a flag on Sandy Cay, a sandbar within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef and Thitu Island, possibly in response to the Philippines’ reported plans to upgrade its runway on Thitu Island.

CONTENT FROM THE FULL TEXT OF THIS YEAR’S (2018) REPORT:

p. 16

CHINA’S USE OF LOW-INTENSITY COERCION IN MARITIME DISPUTES

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • The PLAN, CCG, and People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM) form the largest maritime force in the Indo-Pacific.
  • PLAN, CCG, and PAFMM sometimes conduct coordinated patrols.

China continues to exercise low-intensity coercion to advance its claims in the East and South China Seas. During periods of tension, official statements and state media seek to portray China as reactive. China uses an opportunistically timed progression of incremental but intensifying steps to attempt to increase effective control over disputed areas and avoid escalation to military conflict. China also uses economic incentives and punitive trade policies to deter opposition to China’s actions in the region. In 2017, China extended economic cooperation to the Philippines in exchange for taking steps to shelve territorial and maritime disputes. Conversely, a Chinese survey ship lingered around Benham Rise in the spring after the Philippines refused several requests from China to survey the area. Later in the spring, CCG boats reportedly fired warning shots over Philippine fishing boats near Union Bank. In August 2017, China used PLAN, CCG, and PAFMM ships to patrol around Thitu Island and planted a flag on Sandy Cay, a sandbar within 12 nm of Subi Reef and Thitu Island, possibly in response to Manila’s reported plans to upgrade its runway on Thitu Island. China probably used coercion to pressure Vietnam to suspend joint Vietnam-Spain drilling operations in a disputed oil block in the South China Sea over the summer of 2017.

p. 71

CHINA’S GROWING CIVILIAN AND PARAMILITARY MARITIME CAPABILITY

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • The CCG is the world’s largest; the PAFMM is the only government-sanctioned maritime militia in the world.
  • The PAFMM has organizational ties to, and is sometimes directed by, China’s armed forces, and is active in the South and East China Seas.
  • PAFMM units enable low-intensity coercion activities to advance territorial and maritime claims, including a patrol with the PLAN and CCG in August 2017.

 p. 72

People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM). The PAFMM is a subset of China’s national militia, an armed reserve force of civilians available for mobilization. The PAFMM is the only government-sanctioned maritime militia in the world. Militia units organize around towns, villages, urban sub-districts, and enterprises, and vary widely in composition and mission. In the South China Sea, the PAFMM plays a major role in coercive activities to achieve China’s political goals without fighting, part of broader PRC military doctrine stating confrontational operations short of war can be an effective means of accomplishing political objectives. The militia has played significant roles in a number of military campaigns and coercive incidents over the years, including the 2009 harassment of the USNS IMPECCABLE conducting normal operations, the 2012 Scarborough Reef standoff, the 2014 Haiyang Shiyou-981 oil rig standoff, and a large surge of ships in waters near the Senkakus in 2016.

A large number of PAFMM vessels train with and assist the PLAN and CCG in tasks such as safeguarding maritime claims, surveillance and reconnaissance, fishery protection, logistics support, and search and rescue. The government subsidizes various local and provincial commercial organizations to operate militia vessels to perform “official” missions on an ad hoc basis outside of their regular civilian commercial activities. In August 2017, China used PLAN, CCG, and PAFMM ships to patrol around Thitu Island and planted a flag on Sandy Cay, a sandbar within 12 nm of Subi Reef and Thitu Island, possibly in response to the Philippines’ reported plans to upgrade the runway on Thitu Island.

In the past, the PAFMM rented fishing vessels from companies or individual fishermen, but China has built a state-owned fishing fleet for at least part of its maritime militia force in the South China Sea. The Hainan provincial government, adjacent to the South China Sea, ordered  the building of 84 large militia fishing vessels with reinforced hulls and ammunition storage, which the militia received by the end of 2016, along with extensive subsidies to encourage frequent operations in the Spratly Islands. This particular PAFMM unit is also China’s most professional, paid salaries independent of any clear commercial fishing responsibilities, and recruited from recently separated veterans.

p. 124

In conflict, China may also employ China Coast Guard and People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia ships to support military operations.

***

CONTENT FROM LAST YEAR’S (2017) CHINA MILITARY POWER REPORT:

In a long-overdue and welcome breakthrough, the Pentagon’s latest report on China’s Military and Security Developments contains substantial content on China’s Maritime Militia.

Previously, China’s Maritime Militia was mentioned by Ronald O’Rourke in his Congressional Research Service report and by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, which recommended that the Department of Defense address this vital subject.

But the Pentagon’s new report is the first official top-level assessment by the U.S. government to cover China’s Maritime Militia. It is extremely encouraging that the U.S. government has finally brought to bear the full force of its authority and its tremendous analytical capabilities to address this vital issue.

Office of the Secretary of Defense, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2017 (Arlington, VA: Department of Defense, 6 June 2017).

p. i

China has leveraged its growing power to assert its sovereignty claims over features in the East and South China Seas. China has used coercive tactics, such as the use of law enforcement vessels and its maritime militia, to enforce maritime claims and advance its interests in ways that are calculated to fall below the threshold of provoking conflict.

p. 12

CHINA’S USE OF LOW-INTENSITY COERCION IN MARITIME DISPUTES

China continues to exercise low-intensity coercion to advance its claims in the East and South China Seas. During periods of tension, official statements and state media seek to portray China as reactive. China uses an opportunistically timed progression of incremental but intensifying steps to attempt to increase effective control over disputed areas and avoid escalation to military conflict. China also uses economic incentives and punitive trade policies to deter opposition to China’s actions in the region. In 2016, China used CCG, maritime militia, and fishing ships to surge its maritime presence at various disputed South China Sea features following July’s arbitration ruling. At the same time, it extended economic cooperation in exchange for shelving disputes with the Philippines. Conversely, China restricted Philippine fruit imports during the height of Scarborough Reef tensions in 2012.

p. 56

China Maritime Militia (CMM). The CMM is a subset of China’s national militia, an armed reserve force of civilians available for mobilization to perform basic support duties. Militia units organize around towns, villages, urban sub-districts, and enterprises, and vary widely from one location to another. The composition and mission of each unit is based on local conditions and personnel skills. In the South China Sea, the CMM plays a major role in coercive activities to achieve China’s political goals without fighting, part of broader PRC military doctrine that states that confrontational operations short of war can be an effective means of accomplishing political objectives. A large number of CMM vessels train with and support the PLAN and CCG in tasks such as safeguarding maritime claims, protecting fisheries, logistics, search and rescue (SAR), and surveillance and reconnaissance. The government subsidizes various local and provincial commercial organizations to operate militia vessels to perform “official” missions on an ad hoc basis outside of their regular commercial roles. The CMM has played significant roles in a number of military campaigns and coercive incidents over the years, including the 2011 harassment of Vietnamese survey vessels, the 2012 Scarborough Reef standoff, and the 2014 Haiyang Shiyou-981 oil rig standoff. In the past, the CMM rented fishing vessels from companies or individual fishermen, but it appears that China is building a state-owned fishing fleet for its maritime militia force in the South China Sea. Hainan Province, adjacent to the South China Sea, has ordered the building of 84 large militia fishing vessels for Sansha City.

***

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. … …

 ***

Andrew S. Erickson, “The People’s Republic at Sea: Great Power with ‘Chinese Characteristics’,” Contemporary China Initiative Lecture, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, 9 April 2018.

Click here to watch a video of the lecture.

Monday, April 9, 2018, 4:30pm to 6:00pm

Goldwin Smith Hall, G64, Kaufmann Auditorium

232 East Ave, Central Campus

The Cornell Contemporary China Initiative Lecture Series, featuring interdisciplinary talks by scholars on issues in China today, runs every Monday this semester.

Co-sponsored by the Cornell East Asia Program.

Andrew S. Erickson, Professor of Strategy in the NWC’s China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI), U.S. Naval War College

“The People’s Republic at Sea: Great Power with “Chinese Characteristics”

Powered by the world’s second largest economy and defense budget, China has become a great sea power in its own right, and in its own way. China’s Armed Forces comprise three major organizations, each with a maritime subcomponent that is already the world’s largest such sea force by number of ships. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) contains the PLA Navy (PLAN); the People’s Armed Police (PAP) has formally been put in charge of the consolidating China Coast Guard (CCG); and the People’s Armed Forces Militia contains a growing proportion seagoing units, the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM). Not seeking war but seeking to change the status quo in its favor, Beijing employs its enormous second and third sea forces in maritime “gray zone” operations to further its disputed East and South China Sea sovereignty claims using coercion short of warfare; typically with its first sea force providing coordination and deterrence from over the horizon. This lecture considers why and how China has gone to sea to further its security interests, as well as suggest potential implications.

***

Andrew S. Erickson, “Numbers Matter: China’s Three ‘Navies’ Each Have the World’s Most Ships,” The National Interest, 26 February 2018.

Numerical superiority allows China’s second and third sea forces to flood the maritime gray zone in ways that its neighbors, as well as the United States, may find very hard to counter.

As a friend’s five-year-old puts it, “China has three navies: the regular navy, the police navy and the sneaky navy.” Each of these three sea forces is the world’s largest of its type by number of ships—at least by some measures. China is truly a maritime power in its own right, and its sea forces’ numbers matter in important ways. In maritime “gray zone” operations, Beijing employs its enormous coast guard and maritime militia to further its disputed Yellow, East and South China Sea sovereignty claims using coercion short of warfare. This article, which is part one in a series, will focus on these quantitatively superior second and third sea forces.

More formally, China’s Armed Forces comprise three major organizations, each with a maritime subcomponent. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) contains the PLA Navy (PLAN); the People’s Armed Police (PAP) increasingly leads China’s Maritime Law Enforcement (MLE) forces, including the China Coast Guard (CCG); and the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM) contains a growing proportion of seagoing units. The CCG and PAFMM, clearly the world’s most numerous by any logical measure, are the focus of this article.

In power and sophistication, the PAFMM is far less capable than the CCG—which, in turn, is far less capable than the PLAN. The PLAN has formidable firepower; most PLAN ships have longer-range antiship cruise missilesthan U.S. Navy ships possess. The CCG is an actual threat to both the U.S. Navy and the sea forces of all China’s maritime neighbors, and has an extremely substantial law-enforcement capability on a par with that of the U.S. and Japanese coast guards. Viewed through this unforgiving comparative lens, the PAFMM is at best a harassing force with questionable legal authority. Yet it has already killed Vietnamese citizens, helped to seize Vietnamese- and Philippine-claimed features, and harassed U.S. Navy vessels.

All three sea forces are useful tools for Beijing, when employed against different opponents and in different ways. This is no theoretical abstraction. China has already used its second and third sea forces in manifold gray-zone operations against vessels from its maritime neighbors, as well as the United States. Today, Chinese sea forces are enveloping the Philippines-claimed Sandy Cay shoal (near Thitu Island), around which China has sustained a presence of at least two PAFMM vessels since August 2017. Other publicly documented examples of PAFMM employment from research conducted by the Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) over the past three-plus years include China’s 2015 maneuvers around USS Lassen, the 2014 repulsion of Vietnamese vessels from disputed waters surrounding China’s state-owned HYSY-981 oil rig, participation in the 2014 blockade of Second Thomas Shoal and 2012 seizure of Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines, the harassment of USNSHoward O. Lorenzen (2014) and Impeccable(2009), and the 1974 seizure of the Western Paracel Islands from Vietnam and subsequent harassment of various Vietnamese government/survey vessels.

As Adm. Harry Harris, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, recently testified before the House Armed Services Committee, “Across the South China Sea, China’s air force, navy, coast guard, and maritime militia all maintain a robust presence. Routine patrols and exercises ensure Chinese forces are in and around all the features, not just the ones they occupy. China routinely challenges the presence of non-Chinese forces, including other claimant nations and especially the U.S., often overstating its authority and insisting foreign forces either stay away or obtain Chinese permission to operate.” … …

***

Tamara Gil, “La poco conocida Milicia Marítima de China, la unidad de Pekín que ‘actúa bajo los radares’ para controlar las aguas de Asia Pacífico” [The Little-Known Maritime Militia of China, The Beijing Unit that ‘Acts Under the Radar’ to Control the Waters of the Asia-Pacific], BBC News Mundo [BBC News World], 23 August 2018.

[Algunos miembros de la milicia son pescadores o trabajadores de astilleros.]

Juega un rol vital en la lucha de poderes que se vive en Asia Pacífico, pero poco se había hablado de ella a nivel oficial.

Hasta ahora.

Por primera vez, el Pentágono arrojó un poco de luz sobre la “Milicia Marítima” de China o, como la apoda Washington, “las Fuerzas Armadas Populares” chinas.

La única milicia marítimaen el mundo apoyada por un gobierno, según aseguró el organismo estadounidense en su “informe anual sobre desarrollo militar y de seguridad que involucra a la República Popular de China”.

Pese a que el documento, elaborado a petición del Congreso para constatar los avances chinos en ese campo durante el año anterior, se centra en el rápido desarrollo de las capacidades militares de China, “también analiza con cierta profundidad la poco conocida Milicia Marítima”, destaca Jonathan Marcus, corresponsal de la BBC especializado en Defensa.

Se trata de civiles -desde pescadores a trabajadores de astilleros- pero también exmiembros del Ejército, que son movilizados en apoyo a las Fuerzas Navales chinas y la Guardia Costera del país.

Y en el conflictivo mar de China Meridional, cuya soberanía Pekín reclama prácticamente en su totalidad en desafío a países vecinos y Estados Unidos, parecen estar muy solicitados.

Un paso crucial

Las tensiones por la soberanía del mar de China Meridional llevan años instaladas en la región y enfrentan a numerosos países de Asia y a Estados Unidos.

La disputa no solo se centra en el control de islas o zonas específicas, sino de aguas estratégicas: se cree que el mar de China Meridional contiene importantes recursos naturales y por él pasa casi un tercio del tráfico marítimo mundial.

Pekín asegura que estas aguas, que ahora son internacionales, le pertenecen casi por completo, pero su visión choca con la de sus países vecinos y Washington, que realiza patrullas en la zona en aras de defender la libre circulación de barcos en ese espacio.

En los últimos años, China ha construido islas artificiales e instalaciones en ellas que Estados Unidos y otros países consideran “militares”, mientras el régimen comunista defiende que su único fin es proteger a los barcos pesqueros.

Y se han producido diversos incidentes entre barcos chinos y de otros países y, en algunos de los sucesos más destacados, la Milicia Marítima estuvo involucrada, denuncia el Pentágono.

Entre ellos, menciona el caso de un buque estadounidense que en 2009 fue “acosado” por varios barcos chinos cuando se encontraba realizando “operaciones normales” o el conflicto de 2012 ocurrido en torno al disputado arrecife de Scarborough entre un buque filipino y navíos chinos.

La Milicia Marítima “juega un papel crucial en actividades coercitivas para lograr los objetivos políticos de China sin un enfrentamiento” en el área, especifica el informe.

“China no quiere poner en peligro la estabilidad regional, que sigue siendo crucial para su desarrollo económico, pero está dispuesta a emplear medidas coercitivas para lograr sus intereses y mitigar la oposición de otros países”, destaca el Departamento de Defensa estadounidense.

[China ha construido islas artificiales e instalaciones en ellas que Estados Unidos y otros países consideran militares.]

Esta estrategia forma parte de las llamadas “operaciones grises” del país asiático, diseñadas “para frustrar la respuesta de otros países involucrados (en el conflicto) y asegurar sus intereses” en la zona, apunta por su parte el especialista en Defensa de la BBC.

Como en años anteriores, Pekín rechazó firmemente el informe del Pentágono y presentó una protesta formal a Washington instándole a abandonar su mentalidad “de la guerra fría”.

“Una tercera fuerza marítima”

La creación de la Milicia Marítima de China se remonta a los primeros años tras la fundación de la República Popular de China, en 1949, cuando los comunistas liderados por Mao Zedong “querían defender la vulnerable costa de los ataques del Kuomintang” y al mismo tiempo controlar a la población de pescadores, explica en conversación con BBC Mundo Andrew Erickson, profesor de estrategia en el Instituto de Estudios Marítimos de China de la Escuela de Guerra Naval de EE.UU.

El profesor, uno de los más destacados investigadores en este campo junto a Conor Kennedy, aclara que la milicia actual es muy diferente a la de entonces y advierte que hoy en día forma parte de las Fuerzas Armadas de China.

Opera bajo órdenes militares directas, para llevar a cabo actividades patrocinadas por el Estado”.

[Según el profesor Erickson, miembros de la Guardia Costera china, como los que aparecen en esta foto, o de las Fuerzas Navales chinas suelen apoyar a la milicia en sus operaciones.]

Según sus investigaciones, esta “tercera fuerza marítima” del país asiático es entrenada y equipada por el Ejército Popular de Liberación chino y “está diseñada deliberadamente para pasar por debajo del radar lo más possible”.

Erickson enfatiza que esta fuerza marítima es “enorme”, con miles de barcos y de personas, cuya mayoría trabaja en operaciones rutinarias a lo largo de la costa, si bien también hay unidades que son enviadas a alta mar a defender los reclamos territoriales de la potencia asiática, como las que denuncia el Pentágono.

“China está determinada a resolver la disputa a su favor”

Andrew Erickson, profesor de la Escuela de Guerra Naval de EE.UU.

Pese a que las declaraciones oficiales sobre estos grupos han sido escasas, los medios oficiales chinos, considerados portavoces del gobierno, han mencionado el papel de esta milicia en diversas ocasiones.

“China debería mandar más misiones de la miliciaa salvaguardar la soberanía territorial y los derechos e intereses marítimos (de China) en el mar de China Meridional”, publicó el diario oficialista Global Times a principios de este año, citando a un miembro del Parlamento.

[China busca erigirse como una potencia marítima.]

La prensa oficial también informó de varias visitas del propio presidente Xi Jinping a las milicias ubicadas en la isla sureña de Hainan, adyacente al mar de China Meridional y donde, según el Pentágono, tiene base una de las unidades más profesionales de esta fuerza.

El informe de Washington especifica que para esta unidad el gobierno chino reclutó a veteranos del Ejército recientemente retirados -o puede que despedidos en la última campaña de recortes emprendida por el ejecutivo, apunta por su parte el profesor Erickson- y encargó la construcción de 84 grandes barcos de pesca con cascos reforzados y depósito para municiones.

Según explica Erickson, hay unidades “a tiempo parcial”, con personal que ostenta otros trabajos, y a “tiempo complete”, que están más militarizadas.

China ha trasladado una de estas unidades más profesionalizadas a la localidad de Sansha, en el disputado archipiélago de las Paracelso (también reclamado por Taiwán y Vietnam) y donde Pekín abrió una oficina del gobierno en 2012 para gestionar el mar de China Meridional.

El especialista advierte del riesgo de estas prácticas.

“China no desea que haya una guerra ahí. Tampoco Estados Unidos ni creo que otro país de la región (…). Pero, al mismo tiempo, está determinada a resolver la disputa a su favor”, asevera.

“Pese a que no busca una guerra, no está dispuesta a participar en medidas conciliatorias para garantizar que no se produzca una escalada de la tensión y crisis que lleve a un conflicto (…) así que sigue siendo un riesgo”.

Este no es un enfoque pacífico”.

***

Jonathan G. Odom, “China’s Maritime Militia Threat,” The Straits Times, 16 June 2018.

… China’s maritime militia raises specific concerns under the Law of the Sea, the international law governing the use of force, and international humanitarian law.

Past actions by the maritime militia have contributed to three recurring violations of China’s obligations under the Law of the Sea. First, militia vessels have interfered with the maritime freedoms of other nations, thereby breaching China’s obligation to maintain “due regard” under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Second, militia vessels have navigated unsafely in relation to other vessels, thereby violating the Collision Regulations Convention. Third, China has failed to police the fishing boats of its militia, breaching its UNCLOS duty as a flag state.

While these previous violations of the peacetime international law are problematic, the potential effects of China employing its maritime militia for belligerent purposes could be more troubling.

Aggressive use of the maritime militia could lead to war. Under international law, what constitutes a “use of force” is determined by the nature of actions, and not necessarily by the status of actors. Firing a missile, laying mines, enforcing a blockade, or conducting an amphibious landing of a disputed island could constitute a “use of force” — whether it was committed by the navy or a maritime militia. If China’s maritime militia engaged in any such actions, affected nations could justifiably use force in self-defence and escalation could spiral.

Consider this description in [the] PLA Daily newspaper about China’s maritime militia: “Putting on camouflage, they qualify as soldiers; taking off the camouflage, they become law- abiding fishermen.” Does this reflect a mindset to exploit international humanitarian law? The consequences of feigning civilian status would be tragic for legitimate fishermen who could inadvertently become targets if war broke out.

Third, China’s use of its maritime militia can impact the interests of many nations. They include China’s neighbours who have competing territorial and maritime claims, but they also include other Asia-Pacific nations whose navies pass through and operate in the waters of the Asia-Pacific. … …

***

Jonathan G. Odom, “Guerrillas in the Sea Mist: China’s Maritime Militia and International Law,” Asia-Pacific Journal of Ocean Law and Policy 3.1 (2018): 31-94.

This article is intended to be a comprehensive legal analysis of China’s maritime militia. It applies four major bodies of international law to the known, open-source facts about China’s maritime militia, as derived from the series of articles by Andrew Erickson and Conor Kennedy at the USNWC China Maritime Studies Institute.

Abstract

Building upon recent scholarship about the maritime militia of the People’s Republic of China, this article analyzes a number of concerns about that militia’s status and its activities under existing regimes of international law. First, it lays the foundation of general principles of state responsibility and attribution as they pertain to the maritime militia. Thereafter, it identifies and applies three specialized bodies of international law to China’s use of its maritime militia, including the law of the sea, the use of force by states, and the law of naval warfare. Ultimately, the article concludes that there are serious potential consequences and ramifications under international law arising from China’s maritime militia. Looking ahead, the article then provides a series of recommended options that other nations should consider in addressing these legal problems.

***

If you have trouble accessing the website above, please download a cached copy here.

You can also click here to access the report via the new public CRS website.

KEY EXCERPTS:

p. 8

“Salami-Slicing” Strategy and Gray Zone Operations

Observers frequently characterize China’s approach to the SCS and ECS as a “salami-slicing” strategy that employs a series of incremental actions, none of which by itself is a casus belli, to gradually change the status quo in China’s favor. Other observers have referred to China’s approach as a strategy of gray zone operations (i.e., operations that reside in a gray zone between peace and war), of creeping annexation28 or creeping invasion,29 or as a “talk and take” strategy,

***

28 See, for example, Alan Dupont, “China’s Maritime Power Trip,” The Australian, May 24, 2014.

29 Jackson Diehl, “China’s ‘Creeping Invasion,” Washington Post, September 14, 2014.

p. 9

meaning a strategy in which China engages in (or draws out) negotiations while taking actions to gain control of contested areas.30 A March 17, 2020, press report in China’s state-controlled media stated that “Chinese military experts on Tuesday [March 17] suggested the use of nonlethal electromagnetic weapons, including low-energy laser devices, in expelling US warships that have been repeatedly intruding into the South China Sea in the past week.”31

Table 1. China’s Apparent Goals and Supporting Actions for South China Sea

As assessed in January 2020 CNAS report

***

30 The strategy has been called “talk and take” or “take and talk.” See, for example, Anders Corr, “China’s Take-AndTalk Strategy In The South China Sea,” Forbes, March 29, 2017. See also Namrata Goswami, “Can China Be Taken Seriously on its ‘Word’ to Negotiate Disputed Territory?” The Diplomat, August 18, 2017.

31 Liu Xuanzun, “US Intrusions in S.China Sea Can Be Stopped by Electromagnetic Weapons: Experts,” Global Times, March 17, 2020.

USE OF CHINA COAST GUARD SHIPS AND MARITIME MILITIA ………………………………………………………………………………………. 11

p. 11

Use of Coast Guard Ships and Maritime Militia

China asserts and defends its maritime claims not only with its navy, but also with its coast guard and its maritime militia. Indeed, China employs its coast guard and maritime militia more regularly and extensively than its navy in its maritime sovereignty-assertion operations. DOD states that China’s navy, coast guard, and maritime militia together “form the largest maritime force in the Indo-Pacific.”38

***

38 Department of Defense, Annual Report to Congress [on] Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2018, p. 16. See also Andrew S. Erickson, “Maritime Numbers Game, Understanding and Responding to China’s Three Sea Forces,” Indo-Pacific Defense Forum, January 28, 2019.

p. 14

In an April 22, 2020, statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated

Even as we fight the [COVID-19] outbreak, we must remember that the long-term threats to our shared security have not disappeared. In fact, they’ve become more prominent. Beijing has moved to take advantage of the distraction, from China’s new unilateral announcement of administrative districts over disputed islands and maritime areas in the South China Sea, its sinking of a Vietnamese fishing vessel earlier this month, and its “research stations” on Fiery Cross Reef and Subi Reef. The PRC continues to deploy maritime militia around the Spratly Islands and most recently, the PRC has dispatched a flotilla that included an energy survey vessel for the sole purpose of intimidating other claimants from engaging in offshore hydrocarbon development. It is important to highlight how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is exploiting the world’s focus on the COVID19 crisis by continuing its provocative behavior. The CCP is exerting military pressure and coercing its neighbors in the SCS, even going so far as to sink a Vietnamese fishing vessel. The U.S. strongly opposes China’s bullying and we hope other nations will hold them to account too.46

***

46 Department of State, “The United States and ASEAN are Partnering to Defeat COVID-19, Build Long-Term Resilience, and Support Economic Recovery,” Press Statement, Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State, April 22, 2020. See also A. Ananthalakshmi and Rozanna Latiff, “U.S. Says China Should Stop ‘Bullying Behaviour’ in South China Sea,” Reuters, April 18, 2020; Gordon Lubold and Dion Nissenbaum, “With Trump Facing Virus Crisis, U.S. Warns Rivals Not to Seek Advantage,” Wall Street Journal, April 20, 2020; Brad Lendon, “Coronavirus may be giving Beijing an opening in the South China Sea,” CNN, April 7, 2020; Agence France-Presse, “US Warns China Not to ‘Exploit’ Virus for Sea Disputes,” Channel News Asia, April 6, 2020.

p. 22

Recent Specific Actions

Recent Specific Actions Recent specific actions taken by the Trump Administration include but are not necessarily limited to the following:

As an apparent cost-imposing measure, DOD announced on May 23, 2018, that it was disinviting China from the 2018 RIMPAC (Rim of the Pacific) exercise.66  [CONTINUED…]

***

66 RIMPAC is a U.S.-led, multilateral naval exercise in the Pacific involving naval forces from more than two dozen countries that is held every two years. At DOD’s invitation, China participated in the 2014 and 2016 RIMPAC exercises. DOD had invited China to participate in the 2018 RIMPAC exercise, and China had accepted that invitation. DOD’s statement regarding the withdrawal of the invitation was reprinted in Megan Eckstein, “China Disinvited from Participating in 2018 RIMPAC Exercise,” USNI News, May 23, 2018. See also Gordon Lubold and Jeremy Page, “U.S. Retracts Invitation to China to Participate in Military Exercise,” Wall Street Journal,” Wall Street Journal, May 23, 2018. See also Helene Cooper, “U.S. Disinvites China From Military Exercise Amid Rising Tensions,” New York Times, May 23, 2018; Missy Ryan, “Pentagon Disinvites China from Major Naval Exercise over South China Sea Buildup,” Washington Post, May 23, 2018; James Stavridis, “U.S. Was Right to Give China’s navy the Boot,” Bloomberg, August 2, 2018.

p. 23

  • In November 2018, national security adviser John Bolton said the U.S. would oppose any agreements between China and other claimants to the South China Sea that limit free passage to international shipping.67
  • In January 2019, the then-U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral John Richardson, reportedly warned his Chinese counterpart that the U.S. Navy would treat China’s coast guard cutters and maritime militia vessels as combatants and respond to provocations by them in the same way as it would respond to provocations by Chinese navy ships.68
  • On March 1, 2019, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo stated, “As the South China Sea is part of the Pacific, any armed attack on Philippine forces, aircraft, or public vessels in the South China Sea will trigger mutual defense obligations under Article 4 of our Mutual Defense Treaty [with the Philippines].” 69 (For more on this treaty, see Appendix B.)

***

67 Jake Maxwell Watts, “Bolton Warns China Against Limiting Free Passage in South China Sea,” Wall Street Journal, November 13, 2018.

68 See Demetri Sevastopulo and Kathrin Hille, “US Warns China on Aggressive Acts by Fishing Boats and Coast Guard; Navy Chief Says Washington Will Use Military Rules of Engagement to Curb Provocative Behavior,” Financial Times, April 28, 2019. See also Shirley Tay, “US Reportedly Warns China Over Hostile Non-Naval Vessels in South China Sea,” CNBC, April 29, 2019; Ryan Pickrell, “China’s South China Sea Strategy Takes a Hit as the US Navy Threatens to Get Tough on Beijing’s Sea Forces,” Business Insider, April 29, 2019; Tyler Durden, “‘Warning Shot Across The Bow:’ US Warns China On Aggressive Acts By Maritime Militia,” Zero Hedge, April 29, 2019; Ankit Panda, “The US Navy’s Shifting View of China’s Coast Guard and ‘Maritime Militia,’” Diplomat, April 30, 2019; Ryan Pickrell, “It Looks Like the US Has Been Quietly Lowering the Threshold for Conflict in the South China Sea,” Business Insider, June 19, 2019.

69 State Department, Remarks With Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr., Remarks [by] Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State, March 1, 2019, accessed August 21, 2019 at https://www.state.gov/remarks-withphilippine-foreign-secretary-teodoro-locsin-jr/. See also Regine Cabato and Shibani Mahtani, “Pompeo Promises Intervention If Philippines Is Attacked in South China Sea Amid Rising Chinese Militarization,” Washington Post, February 28, 2019; Claire Jiao and Nick Wadhams, “We Have Your Back in South China Sea, U.S. Assures Philippines,” Bloomberg, February 28 (updated March 1), 2019; Jake Maxwell Watts and Michael R. Gordon, “Pompeo Pledges to Defend Philippine Forces in South China Sea, Philippines Shelves Planned Review of Military Alliance After U.S. Assurances,” Wall Street Journal, March 1, 2019; Jim Gomez, “Pompeo: US to Make Sure China Can’t Blockade South China Sea,” Associated Press, March 1, 2019; Karen Lema and Neil Jerome Morales, “Pompeo Assures Philippines of U.S. Protection in Event of Sea Conflict, Reuters, March 1, 2019; Raissa Robles, “US Promises to Defend the Philippines from ‘Armed Attack’ in South China Sea, as Manila Mulls Review of Defence Ttreaty,” South China Morning Post, March 1, 2019; Raul Dancel, “US Will Defend Philippines in South China Sea: Pompeo,” Straits Times, March 2, 2019; Ankit Panda, “In Philippines, Pompeo Offers Major Alliance Assurance on South China Sea,” Diplomat, March 4, 2019; Mark Nevitt, “The US-Philippines Defense Treaty and the Pompeo Doctrine on South China Sea,” Just Security, March 11, 2019; Zack Cooper, “The U.S. Quietly Made a Big Splash about the South China Sea; Mike Pompeo Just Reaffirmed Washington Has Manila’s back,” Washington Post, March 19, 2019.

p. 52

1972 Convention on Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGs)

China and the United States, as well as more than 150 other countries (including all those bordering on the South East and South China Seas, but not Taiwan),121 are parties to an October 1972 multilateral convention on international regulations for preventing collisions at sea, commonly known as the collision regulations (COLREGs) or the “rules of the road.” 122 Although

***

121 Source: International Maritime Organization, Status of Multilateral Conventions and Instruments in Respect of Which the International Maritime Organization or its Secretary-General Performs Depositary or Other Functions, As at 28 February 2014, pp. 86-89. The Philippines acceded to the convention on June 10, 2013.

122 28 UST 3459; TIAS 8587. The treaty was done at London October 20, 1972, and entered into force July 15, 1977. The United States is an original signatory to the convention and acceded the convention entered into force for the United States on July 15, 1977. China acceded to the treaty on January 7, 1980. A summary of the agreement is [CONTINUED…]

p. 53

commonly referred to as a set of rules or regulations, this multilateral convention is a binding treaty. The convention applies “to all vessels upon the high seas and in all waters connected therewith navigable by seagoing vessels.”123 It thus applies to military vessels, paramilitary and law enforcement (i.e., coast guard) vessels, maritime militia vessels, and fishing boats, among other vessels.

***

123 Rule 1(a) of the convention.

p. 69

Use of Coast Guard Ships and Maritime Militia

Coast Guard Ships

Use of Coast Guard Ships and Maritime Militia Coast Guard Ships DOD states that the China Coast Guard (CCG) is the world’s largest coast guard.166 It is much larger than the coast guard of any country in the region, and it has increased substantially in size in recent years through the addition of many newly built ships. China makes regular use of CCG ships to assert and defend its maritime claims, particularly in the ECS, with Chinese navy ships sometimes available over the horizon as backup forces.167 The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) states the following:

Under Chinese law, maritime sovereignty is a domestic law enforcement issue under the purview of the CCG. Beijing also prefers to use CCG ships for assertive actions in disputed waters to reduce the risk of escalation and to portray itself more benignly to an international audience. For situations that Beijing perceives carry a heightened risk of escalation, it often deploys PLAN combatants in close proximity for rapid intervention if necessary. China also relies on the PAFMM—a paramilitary force of fishing boats—for sovereignty enforcement actions….

China primarily uses civilian maritime law enforcement agencies in maritime disputes, employing the PLAN [i.e., China’s navy] in a protective capacity in case of escalation.

The CCG has rapidly increased and modernized its forces, improving China’s ability to enforce its maritime claims. Since 2010, the CCG’s large patrol ship fleet (more than 1,000 tons) has more than doubled in size from about 60 to more than 130 ships, making it by far the largest coast guard force in the world and increasing its capacity to conduct extended offshore operations in a number of disputed areas simultaneously. Furthermore, the newer ships are substantially larger and more capable than the older ships, and the majority are equipped with helicopter facilities, high-capacity water cannons, and guns ranging from 30-mm to 76-mm. Among these ships, a number are capable of long-distance, longendurance out-of-area operations. In addition, the CCG operates more than 70 fast patrol combatants ([each displacing] more than 500 tons), which can be used for limited offshore operations, and more than 400 coastal patrol craft (as well as about 1,000 inshore and riverine patrol boats). By the end of the decade, the CCG is expected to add up to 30 patrol ships and patrol combatants before the construction program levels off.168

In March 2018, China announced that control of the CCG would be transferred from the civilian State Oceanic Administration to the Central Military Commission.169 The transfer occurred on July 1, 2018.170 On May 22, 2018, it was reported that China’s navy and the CCG had conducted

***

166 Department of Defense, Annual Report to Congress [on] Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2018, p. 71.

167 See Department of Defense, Annual Report to Congress [on] Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2015, pp. 3, 7, and 44, and Department of Defense, Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy, undated but released August 2015, p. 14.

168 Defense Intelligence Agency, China Military Power, Modernizing a Force to Fight and Win, 2019, pp. 66, 78. A similar passage appears in Department of Defense, Annual Report to Congress [on] Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2018, pp. 71-72.

169 See, for example, David Tweed, “China’s Military Handed Control of the Country’s Coast Guard,” Bloomberg, March 26, 2018.

170 See, for example, Global Times, “China’s Military to Lead Coast Guard to Better Defend Sovereignty,” People’s Daily Online, June 25, 2018.

p. 70

their first joint patrols in disputed waters off the Paracel Islands in the SCS, and had expelled at least 10 foreign fishing vessels from those waters.171

Maritime Militia

China also uses the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM)—a force that essentially consists of fishing ships with armed crew members—to defend its maritime claims. In the view of some observers, the PAFMM—even more than China’s navy or coast guard—is the leading component of China’s maritime forces for asserting its maritime claims, particularly in the SCS. U.S. analysts in recent years have paid increasing attention to the role of the PAFMM as a key tool for implementing China’s salami-slicing strategy, and have urged U.S. policymakers to focus on the capabilities and actions of the PAFMM.172

***

171 Catherine Wong, “China’s Navy and Coastguard Stage First Joint Patrols Near Disputed South China Sea Islands as ‘Warning to Vietnam,’” South China Morning Post, May 22, 2018. For additional discussion of China’s coast guard, see Andrew S. Erickson, Joshua Hickey, and Henry Holst, “Surging Second Sea Force: China’s Maritime LawEnforcement Forces, Capabilities, and Future in the Gray Zone and Beyond,” Naval War College Review, Spring 2019; Teddy Ng and Laura Zhou, “China Coast Guard Heads to Front Line to Enforce Beijing’s South China Sea Claims,” South China Morning Post, February 9, 2019; Ying Yu Lin, “Changes in China’s Coast Guard,” Diplomat, January 30, 2019.

172 For additional discussion of the PAFMM, see, for example, Gregory Poling, “China’s Hidden Navy,” Foreign Policy, June 25, 2019; Mike Yeo, “Testing the Waters: China’s Maritime Militia Challenges Foreign Forces at Sea,” Defense News, May 31, 2019; Laura Zhou, “Beijing’s Blurred Lines between Military and Non-Military Shipping in South China Sea Could Raise Risk of Flashpoint,” South China Morning Post, May 5, 2019; Andrew S. Erickson, “Fact Sheet: The People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM),” April 29, 2019, Andrewerickson.com; Jonathan Manthorpe, “Beijing’s Maritime Militia, the Scourge of South China Sea,” Asia Times, April 27, 2019; Dmitry Filipoff, “Andrew S. Erickson and Ryan D. Martinson Discuss China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations,” Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), March 11, 2019; Jamie Seidel, “China’s Latest Island Grab: Fishing ‘Militia’ Makes Move on Sandbars around Philippines’ Thitu Island,” News.com.au, March 5, 2019; Gregory Poling, “Illuminating the South China Sea’s Dark Fishing Fleets,” Stephenson Ocean Security Project (Center for Strategic and International Studies), January 9, 2019; Andrew S. Erickson, “Shining a Spotlight: Revealing China’s Maritime Militia to Deter its Use,” National Interest, November 25, 2018; Todd Crowell and Andrew Salmon, “Chinese Fisherman Wage Hybrid ‘People’s War’ on Asian Seas,” Asia Times, September 6, 2018; Andrew S. Erickson, “Exposed: Pentagon Report Spotlights China’s Maritime Militia,” National Interest, August 20, 2018; Jonathan Odom, “China’s Maritime Militia,” Straits Times, June 16, 2018; Andrew S. Erickson, “Understanding China’s Third Sea Force: The Maritime Militia,” Fairbank Center, September 8, 2017; Andrew Erickson, “New Pentagon China Report Highlights the Rise of Beijing’s Maritime Militia,” National Interest, June 7, 2017; Ryan Pickrell, “New Pentagon Report Finally Drags China’s Secret Sea Weapon Out Of The Shadows,” Daily Caller, June 7, 2017; Conor M. Kennedy and Andrew S. Erickson, “Hainan’s Maritime Militia: All Hands on Deck for Sovereignty Pt. 3,” Center for International Maritime Security, April 26, 2017; Conor M. Kennedy and Andrew S. Erickson, “Hainan’s Maritime Militia: Development Challenges and Opportunities, Pt. 2” Center for International Maritime Security, April 10, 2017; Andrew Erickson, “Hainan’s Maritime Militia: China Builds A Standing Vanguard, Pt. 1,” Center for International Maritime Security, March 25, 2017; 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 No. 1, China Maritime Studies Institute, U.S. Naval War College, Newport, RI, March 2017, 22 pp.; Michael Peck, “‘Little Blue Sailors’: Maritime Hybrid Warfare Is Coming (In the South China Sea and Beyond),” National Interest, December 18, 2016; Peter Brookes, “Take Note of China’s Non-Navy Maritime Force,” The Hill, December 13, 2016; Christopher P. Cavas, “China’s Maritime Militia a Growing Concern,” Defense News, November 21, 2016; Christopher P. Cavas, “China’s Maritime Militia—Time to Call Them Out?” Defense News, September 18, 2016; 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, September 1, 2016; John Grady, “Experts: China Continues Using Fishing Fleets for Naval Presence Operations,” USNI News, August 17, 2016; David Axe, “China Launches A Stealth Invasion in the South China Sea,” Daily Beast, August 9, 2016; Andrew S. Erickson and Conor M. Kennedy, “Countering China’s Third Sea Force: Unmask Maritime Militia Before They’re Used Again,” National Interest, July 6, 2016; Andrew S. Erickson and Conor M. Kennedy, “China’s Maritime Militia, What It Is and How to Deal With It,” Foreign Affairs, June 23, 2016.

p. 71

DOD states that “the PAFMM is the only government-sanctioned maritime militia in the world,” and that it “has organizational ties to, and is sometimes directed by, China’s armed forces.”173 DIA states that

The PAFMM is a subset of China’s national militia, an armed reserve force of civilians available for mobilization to perform basic support duties. Militia units organize around towns, villages, urban subdistricts, and enterprises, and they vary widely from one location to another. The composition and mission of each unit reflects local conditions and personnel skills. In the South China Sea, the PAFMM plays a major role in coercive activities to achieve China’s political goals without fighting, part of broader Chinese military doctrine that states that confrontational operations short of war can be an effective means of accomplishing political objectives.

A large number of PAFMM vessels train with and support the PLA and CCG in tasks such as safeguarding maritime claims, protecting fisheries, and providing logistic support, search and rescue (SAR), and surveillance and reconnaissance. The Chinese government subsidizes local and provincial commercial organizations to operate militia ships to perform “official” missions on an ad hoc basis outside their regular commercial roles. The PAFMM has played a noteworthy role in a number of military campaigns and coercive incidents over the years, including the harassment of Vietnamese survey ships in 2011, a standoff with the Philippines at Scarborough Reef in 2012, and a standoff involving a Chinese oil rig in 2014. In the past, the PAFMM rented fishing boats from companies or individual fisherman, but it appears that China is building a state-owned fishing fleet for its maritime militia force in the South China Sea. Hainan Province, adjacent to the South China Sea, ordered the construction of 84 large militia fishing boats with reinforced hulls and ammunition storage for Sansha City, and the militia took delivery by the end of 2016.174

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173 Department of Defense, Annual Report to Congress [on] Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2018, p. 71.

174 Defense Intelligence Agency, China Military Power, Modernizing a Force to Fight and Win, 2019, p. 79. A similar passage appears in Department of Defense, Annual Report to Congress [on] Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2018, p. 72.

p. 85

A January 18, 2020, press report states

Before assuming his post as commander of the United States Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral Philip S. Davidson issued a stark warning about Washington’s loosening grip in the fiercely contested South China Sea. “In short, China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios, short of war with the United States,” Davidson said during a Senate confirmation hearing ahead of his appointment as the top US military official in the region in May 2018. For many analysts, the dire assessment was a long-overdue acknowledgement of their concerns. Today, there is a growing sense it did not go far enough. Washington’s strategic advantage in the waterway, which holds massive untapped oil and gas reserves and through which