China is building a new South China Sea fleet

For the first time maritime militia could get its own fishing fleet, a boost for the world’s largest producer and exporter of fish

China is building a new South China Sea fleet

World Bulletin / News Desk

China is building a new South China Sea fishing fleet for its maritime militia in a move that could intensify regional disputes, an expert says.

China's maritime militia is one of the most understudied Chinese maritime agencies. Its range of duties differs from rescuing stranded vessels to conducting controversial island landings, and only civilian fishing vessels are used by them.

However, now for the first time that the militia could get its own fishing fleet, a boost for the world’s largest producer and exporter of fish and consumer of seafood.

“It appears that China is building a state-owned fishing fleet for its maritime militia force in the South China Sea,” Zhang Hongzhou, associate research fellow at Singapore’s Rajaratnam School of International Studies. 

Chinese President also encouraged the militia to extend their own responsibilities. President Xi Jinping told maritime militiamen that they should “not only lead fishing activities, but also collect oceanic information and support the construction of islands and reefs” in support of Chinese interests in the South China Sea.

Obtaining a fleet means that maritime militiamen will no longer rely on rental fishing boats, but a state-owned fishing fleet in the South China Sea will be built for them. 

In Zhang’s view, the shift by the Chinese government reflects Beijing’s growing frustration about its inability to manage fishermen. After a series of growing problems, including recurrent complaints about low pay for involvement in government initiatives – such as protecting the Chinese oil rig during the incident with Vietnam last year – the central government has decided to increasingly control and direct its own activities.

“They can’t manage the fishermen,” Zhang said.

As to their purpose, there is little doubt in Zhang’s view that they will be used to consolidate China’s position in the Spratlys. In addition to the asserting Chinese claims there, the Spratlys are also a valuable fishing ground for China.

“These vessels, of course, will be deployed in the Spratlys,” he said.

But Zhang has also been warning that the growing use of the maritime militia could actually intensify regional disputes and undermine Chinese interests. Writing in The Diplomat in May, Zhang said that maritime militia could use patriotism as a cover to undertake illegal activities including poaching coral reefs, sea turtles and other endangered species which jeopardizes China’s international image. They could also carry out brazen operations in disputed waters even going beyond China’s nine-dash line, thereby stoking regional tensions with neighboring states.

“This practice risks hijacking China’s foreign policy and undermining relations with neighboring countries,” Zhang wrote.

How China addresses these risks remains to be seen since the specifics of the fleet are still unclear – down to its very size and the timeline of its development. China’s Hainan Province, Zhang noted, has ordered the building of 84 large militia fishing vessels for Sansha City. Ten fishing vessels will be delivered in 2015, and the fleet currently has only four vessels. The full development of the fleet is thus likely to take some time, Zhang admitted.

“It will take some years,” he said.

Last Mod: 01 Ağustos 2015, 17:43
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