The following is provided by Carlyle Thayer in an email dated 4 July 2016.

Dear Colleagues,

As the Arbitral Tribunal’s finding on the Philippines -v- China case draws near, I thought you might be interested in new work on China’s maritime militia by Dr. Andrew Erickson and Connor Kennedy at the China Maritime Studies Institute, U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island:

Dr. Erickson reads Chinese and this gives his research a special edge.

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

Erickson and Connor argue:

To assertively promote its disputed island and maritime claims, China is using not one but three major sea forces–a potent three-pronged trident. In addition to what will soon be the world’s second-largest blue water navy, and what is already the world’s largest blue water coast guard, Beijing wields the world’s largest maritime militia–whose leading units are irregular frontline forces trolling for territory. Most useful in the peacetime coercion Beijing hopes to exclusively employ to advance its claims, the Maritime Militia remains the least recognized and understood of its sea forces. That needs to change, and fast.

As storm clouds gather over the South China Sea, foreign observers and decision-makers must understand the irregular sea force that has already played a key role in the following Chinese incidents and skirmishes in its waters with foreign maritime forces, among others:

  1. China’s 1974 seizure of the western portion of the Paracel Islands from Vietnam
  2. China’s 2009 harassment of a U.S. survey ship
  3. China’s 2011 sabotage of two Vietnamese hydrographic vessels
  4. China’s 2012 seizure of Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines
  5. China’s 2014 repulsion of Vietnamese vessels from disputed waters surrounding its HYSY-981 Oil Rig

Last October, when the destroyer USS Lassen passed near Subi Reef, merchant ships including fishing vessels maneuvered around it, having apparently anticipated its approach. In the future, to turn up the heat on Freedom of Navigation operations it categorically opposes, and while attempting to preserve plausible deniability and exploit limitations in the rules of engagement of the U.S. and its allies and partners, China may employ Maritime Militia vessels more assertively to harass–and even attempt to thwart–such operations.

Further information