A swarm of Chinese fishing vessels have been sighted in the South China Sea, raising security concerns since these ships, backed by Chinese authorities, pose the biggest threat to U.S. warships operating in the region, solely contested by China as part of its territory.
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These fishing vessels often function as China’s quasi-military and unofficial maritime border management branch backed by the Navy. They aim to assert China’s maritime rights and claims and aid their Navy through secret surveillance, reconnaissance and logistical duties.
Information from RAND Corporation reports, and the Centre for Strategic and International Studies highlights that these so-called fishing vessels might lack advanced weaponry. However, some experts are of the opinion that China might begin to arm them anytime in the future.
The fishing militia has been seen shortly after an incident between Manila and Beijing, wherein the Chinese Coast Guard used water cannons on a Philippine Ship.
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These developments hint at the possibility of China employing this maritime militia if a dispute arises among China, the Philippines and the US-led coalition.
It is also important to note that these events unfold in the backdrop of the US, Australia and Japan’s announcement of holding a joint naval exercise in the South China Sea, a possible response to the August incident where 6 Chinese Coast Guard Ships and the fishing militia tried to stop 2 Philippine Navy-charted civilian ships en route to deliver essential supplies to the Philippine forces deployed at the Second Thomas Shoal.
Per reports, the joint drills between Tokyo, Washington and Canberra will employ helicopter carriers and three naval aircraft, showing unity, strength and solidarity. U.S. plans to deploy the USS America aircraft carrier, and Japan will send JS Izumo, one of the biggest warships of its naval fleet. Australia will arrive with HMAS Canberra.
Pictures of this fishing militia have been posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. They show hundreds of these ships sailing close to islands in the South China Sea. Experts studying China have underlined the role of these fishing militia vessels, which China has earlier employed in its conflicts with Vietnam and the Philippines over disputed territories in the South China Sea.
Observers and strategists have revealed that China’s naval defence concept has changed in the 2000s, moving away from a naval-focused one to a broad and collaborative one where fishing militias operate at the forefront, allowing the PLA to carry out more important maritime functions in the backdrop, without drawing considerable attention to itself.
These fishing militias are quite dangerous, although they perform logistical duties instead of engaging in direct combat. China regards them as a mass organisation composed of civilians who work for the government while also working regular jobs. They support the Navy by undertaking security, frontline and logistics-related tasks.
They may also come in handy in case of a conflict with other nations in supplying Chinese warships with ammunition and provisions. However, it is still being determined how these fishing militia are trained; some argue that they receive training from both the Navy and the Chinese Coast Guard.
From a strategic viewpoint, these vessels have significant naval warfare potential since they operate from a point of ambiguity and are difficult to identify from other civilian ships.
Secondly, using hundreds of low-cost fishing vessels for surveillance and reconnaissance presents a threat to warships operating in the South China Sea, similar to the one presented by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps in the Persian Gulf against the US Navy.
These fishing vessels also benefit from the possible deniability of their origin and activities, which would prevent warship commanders from attacking them directly in the open seas.
References: TimesofIndia, EurasianTimes
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