From “harassing Filipino fishing boats” to “playing cat-and-mouse with the Japanese coastguard,” China’s fleet of civilian vessels does it all. In a remarkable story, Reuters details how citizen-owned fishing, exploration, and coastguard vessels coordinate their actions with the Navy, patrol disputed territory, harass foreign ships and occasionally attack them with water cannons and grappling hooks.In just the most recent such incident, Chinese ships used water cannons to deter Filipino fishermen from an area claimed by both countries near the Scarborough Shoal. China blamed the whole thing on the Filipino fishermen. A foreign ministry spokesman said, heatedly, that the Filipinos appeared to just “hang around” in the disputed area and adopting a “provocative posture of appearing to spoil for a fight.” The Chinese vessels, by contrast, “maintained utmost restraint.”As one Asian naval officer put it to Reuters, “What we are seeing now is the PLA Navy moving into broader areas of ocean and fine-tuning their operational training, including combat, leaving the civilian fleets to concentrate on the most sensitive areas. It is those fleets that represent the daily assertion of Chinese sovereignty in disputed areas—and we watch them like hawks as a result.”China’s coastguard is strong and expanding so quickly it will soon challenge Japan’s, which is the largest and most technologically advanced in the region. Some of the coastguard ships are decommissioned naval vessels. A 10,000-tonne maritime surveillance ship, which is currently under construction, will be the largest in the world. Another one half that size will be stationed on an island in the South China Sea that is claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam. Last year, China’s various coast guard administration departments were unified under a more direct chain of command. Little is known about the unit at the top of that chain, the State Oceanic Administration, or its relationship with the Navy, notes a recent study by Japan’s National Institute of Defence Studies.As the director of intelligence in the US Navy said recently, the Chinese Navy coordinates with the civilian coastguard on operations in the East and South China Seas. “This campaign is being meticulously coordinated from Beijing,” he said. While the larger Navy ships are occupied in the open ocean, the civilian coastguard and fishing vessels play the role of “antagonist” in and around island groups claimed by China and its neighbors. Those neighbors, except for Japan, are mostly too weak to fight back.Little by little, using naval as well as civilian ships, China is reinforcing its claim on the South China Sea (some people call this the “cabbage strategy”). Coastguard patrols are regularly “apprehending” vessels in a part of the South China Sea that Beijing says is not open to foreigners. “First of all we would try to dissuade them, tell them to get out, this is our area, and then we negotiate and dissuade as much as possible,” an official in the Hainan government, which issued the new rule this year, said today. The “intruders,” mostly Vietnamese and Filipino fishermen accustomed to plying these waters unharassed, are dealt with by China’s patrol vessels that are based on Woody Island in the Paracel Islands.The South China Sea gets a little messier and a little more tense every day.
The boss of the seaChina's Muscular Civilian Fleet Threatens, Irritates Neighbors
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