Tag Archives: Maritime Militia

The U. S. Coast Guard in the South China Sea: Strategy or Folly?

By Michael D. Armour, Ph.D.

Introduction

Recently there has been discussions at the highest level of the U.S. military concerning the deployment of U.S. Coast Guard assets to the South China sea and integrating them into the freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) conducted by the U.S. Navy relating to the manmade atolls constructed by the Chinese and subsequently claimed as Chinese sovereign territory. It may be that these U.S. Coast Guard units, if deployed to the area, may turn out to be a combat multiplier or a diplomatic plus. However, given the meager USCG budget and the limited assets of the service, their deployment may prove to be insignificant or even fraught with danger.

Chinese Territorial Expansion Claims

The South China Sea (SCS) has become a flashpoint on the world stage. The People’s Republic of China has asserted territorial claims for many islands in the Spratly and Parcel groups that other nations, such as Viet Nam and the Philippines, claim as their own sovereign territory. In addition to these claims, the Chinese have occupied and militarized many of the manmade atolls which they have constructed in the same area. The photo below of Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly chain illustrates the militarization of these artificial atoll platforms and the amount of military hardware that has been installed on many of them.1

Fiery Cross Reef (CSIS AMTI)

Jeremy Bender reports that U.S. officials estimate that the Chinese construction at Fiery Cross Reef could accommodate an airstrip long enough for most of Beijing’s military aircraft and that China is also expanding manmade islands on Johnson South Reef, Johnson North Reef, Cuarteron Reef, and Gaven Reef around the Spratlys  He goes on to say that China appears to be expanding and upgrading military and civilian infrastructures including radars, satellite communication equipment, antiaircraft and naval guns, helipads and docks on some of the manmade atolls. These would likely be used as launching points for aerial defense operations in support of Chinese naval vessels in the southern reaches of the SCS.2 Additionally, China considers the waters surrounding these islands to be sovereign territory requiring foreign vessel notification before approaching the 12-mile limit.

U.S. Opposition

An international tribunal in The Hague ruled against China’s behavior in the SCS, including its construction of artificial islands, and found that its expansive claim to sovereignty over the waters had no legal basis. The tribunal also stated that China had violated international law by causing “irreparable harm” to the marine environment.3 In relation to this the U. S. Navy has conducted freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) around these atolls. On October 27, 2015, the guided missile destroyer USS Lassen transited within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef, one of China’s artificially-built features in the SCS.4 On 10 May, 2016 the USS William P. Lawrence, a guided missile destroyer, sailed within 12 nautical miles of Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands.5 Also, in early 2016, USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG-54) came within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island in the Paracels without prior notification.6 According to Alex Lockie the Trump administration may be willing to continue these confrontational FONOPs which will surely heighten tensions in the area.7

Enter the China Coast Guard

The China Coast Guard (CCG) is a critical tool in the effort to secure China’s maritime interests. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the enlargement and modernization of the China Coast Guard has improved China’s ability to enforce its maritime claims. In relation

to this, a survey conducted by China Power showed that of the 50 major incidents identified in the SCS, from 2010 onward, at least one CCG (or other Chinese maritime law enforcement) vessel was involved in 76 percent of incidents. Four additional incidents involved a Chinese naval vessel acting in a maritime law enforcement capacity, raising that number to 84 percent.8 China now possesses the world’s largest blue-water coast guard fleet and that it uses its law-enforcement cutters as an instrument of foreign policy.9 In relation to this, analysts conclude that in the flashpoints in the South China Sea, the Chinese are deploying coast guard ships and armed fishing vessels instead of its regular navy assets.10

Crest of the China Coast Guard

Enter the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG)?

In January of 2017, Robbin Laird conducted an interview with the Commandant of the USCG, Admiral Paul Zukunft. He quoted the Admiral as stating the following in regard to the Coast Guard’s possible role in the SCS:

“I have discussed with the CNO (Chief of Naval Operations) the concept that we would create a permanent USCG presence in the South China Sea and related areas. This would allow us to expand our working relationship with Vietnam, the Philippines, and Japan. We can spearhead work with allies on freedom of navigation exercises as well.”11

The proposal to deploy USCG assets to the SCS was also espoused by David Barno and Nora Bensahel, who offered ways in which the United States could try to deter further Chinese encroachments in the SCS. One of their scenarios included the U.S. countering aggressive Chinese tactics by establishing a regular and visible Coast Guard presence in the area. They went on to say that:

“Only the United States has a major global coast guard capability, but some regional and even some international partners might be able to assist. As China has demonstrated, Coast Guard vessels are less provocative than warships, and their employment by the United States and partners could confront similar Chinese ships with far less risk of military escalation.”12

Others disagree with the above assessment. Brian Chao notes that the use of coast guard or constabulary forces in the South China Sea might actually increase the risk of war instead of easing tensions. He notes that using these forces as a diplomatic tool could lull all participants into a false sense of calm; however, these constabulary forces may be more willing to take aggressive actions because they may believe that the law is on their side.13

In addition to this negative stance, Aaron Picozzi and Lincoln Davidson question whether or not the U.S. Coast Guard could handle a mission in the South China Sea. They point out the reality that the U.S. Coast Guard lacks the capacity to base a “visible” presence in the SCS and that due to budget restraints, it simply does not have the ship capacity to carry out effective, sustained patrols in that area of operations. They also claim that the placement of U.S. Coast Guard cutters in the SCS would create a void in the service’s main mission, namely law enforcement, or search and rescue operations in home waters.14

If USCG assets are deployed to the SCS, it is hoped that because of the USCG’s good relations with its Chinese counterpart, tensions could be lessened and that U.S. interests could be better served. At this point, however, one must ask the following questions: What would happen if hostilities actually occurred and a situation arose pitting coast guard against coast guard? What kind of enemy capabilities and dangers would USCG personnel face?

The Capabilities, Structure, and Assets of the China Coast Guard

The China Coast Guard (CCG) was created in 2013 by the merging of five different organizations. These included the China Marine Surveillance (CMS); the Department of Agriculture’s China Fisheries Law Enforcement; the Ministry of Public Security’s Border Defense Coast Guard; and the Maritime Anti-Smuggling Police of the General Administration of Customs and the Ministry of Transport.15

The largest operational unit of the CCG is the flotilla, which is a regimental-level unit. Every coastal province has one to three Coast Guard flotillas and there are twenty CCG flotillas across the country.16 In 2015 the CCG possessed at least 79 ships displacing more than 1,000 tons, among which, at least 24 displace more than 3,000 tons. Most of these ships are not armed with deck guns but are equipped with advanced non-lethal weaponry, including water cannons and sirens.17  However, it seems that other CCG vessels are being armed with an array of more lethal weaponry. The China Daily Mail has reported that a number of CCG ships are being equipped with weapons which will give them greater strength to intensify law enforcement on the sea. The article also stated that China will transform many fishery administration and marine surveillance ships into armed coast guard cutters.18 The CCG has deployed a vessel (3901) that will carry 76mm rapid-fire guns, two auxiliary guns and two anti-aircraft machine guns. This monster ship, displacing 12,000 tons, is larger than U.S. Navy aegis-equipped surface combatants.          

Chinese Coast Guard Mega Cutter 3901 (China Defense Blog)

Jane’s 360 reported that images circulated on the Chinese internet indicate that the CCG has equipped its lead Type 818 vessel with the Type 630 30 mm close-in weapon system (CIWS).Two turrets of the system have been installed above the ship’s helicopter hangar, providing it with a means of defense against guided munitions and hostile aircraft. Information also indicates that the ship has also been armed with a 76 mm PJ-26 naval gun as its primary weapon.19

Lyle Goldstein relates that the Type 818 design discussed above can be rapidly configured into a naval combat frigate. He denotes the key characteristics for this class of ship, including, “134 meters in length, 15 meters at the beam, 3900 tons, and with a maximum speed of 27 knots. The ship is armed with a 76mm main gun, two heavy 30mm machine guns, four high pressure water cannons, and will also wield a Z-9 helicopter.”20

A photo taken by the Japan Coast Guard on Dec. 22 shows a Chinese coast guard ship equipped with what appear to be gun turrets (circled) cruising in a sea area near the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture. (Japan Times)

Enter the Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM)

In addition to their coast guard assets, the Chinese also deploy a vast number of fishing and merchant vessels that comprise what is referred to as the Chinese Maritime Militia (CMM). China has the largest fishing fleet in the world and it uses these assets as a third force in their effort to control the South China Sea. The CMM is a paramilitary force that operates in conjunction with the CCG but is cloaked behind the international legal shield of being civilian commercial assets.21 A 1978 report estimated that China’s maritime militia consisted of 750,000 personnel and 140,000 vessels and a 2010 defense white paper reported that China had 8 million militia units with the CMM being a smaller subset of that group.

The CMM personnel are trained in activities such as reconnaissance, harassment and blocking maneuvers, and this organization possesses the potential to evolve into a more formidable maritime fighting force. Militia ships could be armed with light anti-ship missiles such as the C-101 or HY1-A and be trained in more elaborate tactics such as maritime swarm tactics interconnected by Network Centric Warfare (NCW).22

A crewmember on a Chinese trawler uses a grapple hook in an apparent attempt to snag the towed acoustic array of the military Sealift Command ocean surveillance ship USNS Impeccable (T-AGOS-23). Impeccable was conducting routine survey operations in international waters 75 miles south of Hainan Island when it was harassed by five Chinese vessels. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

Conclusion

It is entirely possible that the introduction of U.S. Coast Guard assets into the South China Sea area of operations will result in positive results in the form of increased capabilities and support off U.S. FONOPS and that USCG “white hulls” will relieve tensions in a conflicted milieu. However, there is also a possibility that USCG forces may become embroiled in actual conflict in the area; therefore, a comprehensive risk analysis should be undertaken before any considerable commitment is undertaken and the mission should be considered a “go” only if the benefits heavily outweigh the costs.

If the U.S. Coast Guard is faced with conflict in the South China Sea, it will not be alone in the effort. The full weight of the U.S. military will also be present. U.S. forces will be confronted with three levels of threat. These include the formidable Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy, the China Coast Guard, and the Chinese Maritime Militia.  It is obvious that the main counter to these entities will be the U.S. Navy and the allied navies in the area. The assets that the U.S. Coast Guard could contribute to the effort would be limited and the cost might be considerable. While such a mission would enhance the Coast Guard’s image, it may turn out to be folly rather than strategy.

Michael D Armour, Ph.D, retired as a Colonel from the U.S. Army and is an  Instructor of Political Science at The University of Memphis, Memphis, Tennessee. He served as Adjunct Professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval War College and holds an M.S.S. in Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College. He is a member of Flotilla 15-03, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, in Memphis, Tennessee.

References

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/07/30/world/asia/what-china-has-been-building-in-the-south-china-sea.html

[2] http://www.businessinsider.com/china-is-fortifying-position-in-south-china-sea-2015-1

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/13/world/asia/south-china-sea-hague-ruling-philippines.html

[4] https://www.csis.org/analysis/us-asserts-freedom-navigation-south-china-sea

[5] https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/us-navy-carries-out-third-fonop-south-china-sea

[6]  https://news.usni.org/2017/07/02/u-s-destroyer-conducts-freedom-navigation-operation-south-china-sea-past-chinese-island

[7] http://www.businessinsider.com/us-navy-freedom-of-navigation-south-china-sea-fonops-2017-2

[8] https://chinapower.csis.org/maritime-forces-destabilizing-asia/

[9] https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2015-04-0/chinas-second-navy

[10] https://chinadailymail.com/2017/06/17/china-marks-south-china-sea-claims-with-coast-guard-marine-militias/

[11] http://roilogolez.blogspot.com/2017/01/trump-kelly-us-coast-guard-in-south.html

[12] https://warontherocks.com/2016/06/a-guide-to-stepping-it-up-in-the-south-china-sea/

[13] http://nationalinterest.org/feature/coast-guards-could-accidently-spark-war-the-south-china-16766

[14] https://warontherocks.com/2016/06/can-the-u-s-coast-guard-take-on-the-south-china-sea/

[15] Martinson, Ryan D., “From Words to Actions: The Creation of the China Coast Guard” A paper for the China as a “Maritime Power” Conference July 28-29, 2015 CNA Conference Facility Arlington, Virginia, p.2.

[16] https://www.revolvy.com/main/index.php?s=China%20Coast%20Guard&item_type=topic

[17] Martinson, op cit, pp. 44-45.

[18] https://chinadailymail.com/2013/06/19/china-coast-guard-ships-now-carry-weapons-in-south-china-sea/

[19] http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/chinas-new-coast-guard-vessels-are-designed-rapid-conversion-18221

[20 http://www.manilalivewire.com/2016/02/china-is-arming-its-coast-guard-ships-with-sophisticated-weaponry-reports/

[22] Kraska, James and Monti, Michael, The Law of Naval Warfare and China’s Maritime Militia, International Law Studies, Vol. 91, 2015.

[23] http://dailycaller.com/2016/09/24/how-the-us-should-respond-to-chinas-secret-weapon/

[24] Armour, Michael D., The Chinese Maritime Militia: A Perfect Swarm? Journal of Defense Studies, Vol. 10, No.3, July-September 2016, pp. 21-39.

Featured Image: U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell returns to homeport in San Diego after a 90-day counter drug patrol in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, Oct. 6, 2014. During the patrol, the Boutwell participated in six separate cocaine interdictions. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Connie Terrell)

U.S. Options for the People’s Republic of China’s Maritime Militias

This article originally featured on Divergent Options and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here

By Blake Herzinger


National Security Situation:  People’s Republic of China (PRC) Maritime Militias operating in the East China Sea (ECS) and South China Sea (SCS).

Date Originally Written:  February 21, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  April 6, 2017.

Author and/or Article Point of View: Author believes in freedom of navigation and maintenance of good order at sea in accordance with customary and written law of the sea. The article is written from the point of view of U.S. sea services leadership toward countering PRC maritime irregulars at sea.

Background:  The PRC employs irregular militia forces at sea alongside naval and maritime law enforcement units.  By deploying these so-called “blue hulls” manned by un-uniformed (or selectively-uniformed) militiamen, the PRC presses its maritime claims and confronts foreign sea services within a “gray zone[1].”  In keeping with national traditions of People’s War, PRC Maritime Militias seek advantage through asymmetry, while opposing competitors whose rules of engagement are based on international law.  The PRC Maritime Militia participated in several of the most provocative PRC acts in the SCS, including the 2009 USNS Impeccable incident, the seizure of Scarborough Shoal in 2012, and the 2014 China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) 981 confrontation with Vietnam that also involved the smaller Vietnam Maritime Militia[2].

Significance:  On its surface, employing irregular forces may be an attractive option for a state facing a more powerful opponent, or for a state interested in “a less provocative means of promoting its strategic goal of regional hegemony” such as the PRC[3].  However, incorporating these irregular forces into a hybrid national strategy has deleterious impacts on the structure of the international legal system, particularly in maritime law and the laws of naval warfare[4].  PRC Maritime Militias’ use of “civilian” fishing vessels to support, and conduct, military operations distorts this legal structure by obfuscating the force’s identity and flaunting established international legal boundaries.

Option #1:  U.S. political and military leaders engage the PRC/People’s Liberation Army (Navy) (PLAN) directly and publicly on the existence and operations of the Maritime Militia, insist upon adherence to internationally-accepted legal identification of vessels and personnel[6], and convey what costs will be imposed on the PRC/PLAN if they do not change their behavior.

As an example, the Commander U.S. Pacific Fleet, Admiral Scott Swift, has voiced his frustration with PLAN unwillingness to acknowledge the existence of the PRC Maritime Militia and its relationships with state law enforcement and military forces[5]. In the event that the PRC declines to engage in dialogue regarding the Maritime Militia, discontinuing PLAN participation in the Rim of the Pacific exercise is the suggested response.

Risk:  Without clearly attaching costs to continued use of militia forces in operations against the USN, Option #1 is unlikely to affect PRC behavior.  Conveying possible imposed costs carries risk of further-degrading relations between the U.S. and PRC, but it is precisely PRC perceptions of their behavior as costless that encourages the behaviors exhibited by the PRC’s Maritime Militia[7].

Gain:  Option #1 is an excellent opportunity for the U.S. to underline its commitment to good order at sea and a rules-based maritime order.  By encouraging the PRC to acknowledge the Maritime Militia and its associated command structure, the U.S. can cut through the ambiguity and civilian camouflage under which the Maritime Militia has operated unchallenged.  In the event that the PRC declines to engage, conveying the possible imposition of costs may serve as a warning that behavior negatively affecting good order at sea will not be tolerated indefinitely.

Option #2:  U.S. Pacific Command’s Joint Interagency Task Force West (JIATF-W) assists the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in developing and implementing an organic maritime domain awareness (MDA) capability with domestic, and international, interagency sharing and response capability.  For the purposes of this article, MDA will be understood to be a host-nation’s ability to “collect, fuse, analyze and disseminate maritime data, information and intelligence relating to potential threats to [its] security, safety, economy or environment[8].”

Risk:  Close to a score of abandoned information portals and sharing infrastructures have been tried and failed in Southeast Asia, a cautionary tale regarding the risk of wasted resources.  Building upon over 20 years of JIATF-W’s experience should help to mitigate this risk, so long as an MDA solution is developed cooperatively and not simply imposed upon ASEAN.

Gain:  By providing focused and long-term support to an ASEAN-led solution, the U.S. can make progress in an area where MDA has been plagued by reticence, and occasionally inability to share vital information across interagency and national borders.  Shared awareness and cooperation at sea will combat the ability of the PRC Maritime Militia to operate uncontested in the SCS by enabling more effective law enforcement and naval response by affected countries.  Working through existing regional institutions such as Singapore’s Information Fusion Centre would add increased value to Option #2.

Option #3:  Utilize U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) to provide law enforcement and maritime safety training support to states bordering the ECS/SCS interested in creating their own maritime militias.

Risk:  Expanding a concept that is damaging the rules-based order may increase the rate of disintegration of good order at sea.  Any observable indication that the U.S. is encouraging the creation of irregular maritime forces would likely be viewed negatively by the PRC.  Option #3 carries risk of engendering diplomatic or military conflict between the U.S. and PRC, or between the PRC and U.S. partners.

Gain:  Option #3 might provide some level of parity for states facing PRC militia vessels.  Vietnam has already made the decision to pursue development of a maritime militia and others may follow in hopes of countering the PRC’s irregular capability.  USCG involvement in the organizational development and training of militias might provide some limited opportunities to shape their behavior and encourage responsible employment of militia forces.

Other Comments:  Encouragement for the expansion of the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) is not addressed.  The CUES  was adopted during the 2014 Western Pacific Naval Symposium (WPNS) and provides a basis for communications, maritime safety, and maneuvering guidelines for use by ships and aircraft in unplanned encounters at sea.  CUES is not a legally binding document, but an agreed-upon protocol for managing potentially escalatory encounters in the Pacific[9].  This author believes coast guards adjoining the contested areas of the ECS and SCS will continue to resist CUES adoption in order to maintain operational latitude.  Given the reticence of coast guards to accede to the agreement, drawing PRC Maritime Militia into CUES seems an unrealistic possibility.

Recommendation:  None.

Blake Herzinger served in the United States Navy in Singapore, Japan, Italy, and exotic Jacksonville, Florida. He is presently employed by Booz Allen Hamilton and assists the U.S. Pacific Fleet in implementation and execution of the Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative. His writing has appeared in Proceedings and The Diplomat. He can be found on Twitter @BDHerzinger. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of any official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group. 


Endnotes:

[1]  The South China Sea’s Third Force: Understanding and Countering China’s Maritime Militia, Hearings on Seapower and Projection Forces in the South China Sea, Before the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, 114th Cong., 1 (2016)(Statement of Andrew S. Erickson, U.S. Naval War College). http://docs.house.gov/meetings/AS/AS28/20160921/105309/HHRG-114-AS28-Wstate-EricksonPhDA-20160921.pdf

[2]  Conor M. Kennedy and Andrew S. Erickson, “Model Maritime Militia: Tanmen’s Leading Role in the April 2012 Scarborough Shoal Incident,” CIMSEC, 21 April 2016, http://cimsec.org/model-maritime-militia-tanmens-leading-role-april-2012-scarborough-shoal-incident/24573

[3]  James Kraska and Michael Monti, “The Law of Naval Warfare and China’s Maritime Militia,” International Law Studies 91.450 (2015): 465, http://stockton.usnwc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi

[4]  Ibid.

[5]  Christopher Cavas, “China’s Maritime Militia a Growing Concern,” DefenseNews, November 21, 2016,  http://www.defensenews.com/articles/new-website-will-allow-marines-to-share-training-videos

[6]  The South China Sea’s Third Force: Understanding and Countering China’s Maritime Militia, Hearings on Seapower and Projection Forces in the South China Sea Before the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, 114th Cong., 1 (2016)(Statement of Andrew S. Erickson, U.S. Naval War College). http://docs.house.gov/meetings/AS/AS28/20160921/105309/HHRG-114-AS28-Wstate-EricksonPhDA-20160921.pdf

[7]  The Struggle for Law in the South China Sea, Hearings on Seapower and Projection Forces in the South China Sea Before the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, 114th Cong., 1 (2016)(Statement of James Kraska, U.S. Naval War College).

[8]  Secretary of the Navy Approves Strategic Plan for Maritime Domain Awareness, U.S. Navy, Last updated 8 October 2015, http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp? story_id=91417

[9]  Document: Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, USNI News, Last updated 22 August 2016, https://news.usni.org/2014/06/17/document-conduct-unplanned-encounters-sea

Featured Image: Reuters video journalist Peter Blaza (C), with assistant Oscar Abunyawan (R), films a Chinese fishing vessel docked on the mouth of Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, April 6, 2017. Picture taken April 6, 2017. (Erik De Castro, Reuters)

Hainan’s Maritime Militia: All Hands on Deck for Sovereignty Pt. 3

By Conor M. Kennedy and Andrew S. Erickson

Part I and II of this conclusion to our series on Hainan’s maritime militia discussed the Hainan Provincial Military District (MD) leadership’s approach to constructing maritime militia forces in response to national militia guidelines and how they address challenges during construction efforts. This final installment in our series offers a glimpse into what the Hainan MD’s efforts have yielded in force scale. It also examines the incentivizes motivating the builders of this force, such as political drivers and pressures confronting local officials. The conclusion also outlines issues meriting further observation and analysis, such as the significance of the Sansha Maritime Militia force for China’s third sea force more broadly, and the degree to which Chinese officials frame related efforts as part of a “People’s War.”

Although this series has discussed in depth four key locations for maritime militia development, they are part of a far broader effort by the entire Hainan MD. The maritime militia units of Sanya, Danzhou, Tanmen, and Sansha should not be seen in isolation, but rather as elements of the Hainan MD militia force system. Directed by national militia construction guidelines and a highly publicized visit by paramount leader Xi Jinping to the Tanmen Maritime Militia, every other county in Hainan Province has established singular or multiple maritime militia units. These include districts of the provincial capital Haikou and many other directly administered and autonomous counties. Additional noteworthy maritime militia units are located in Lingshui County, Chengmai County, Changjiang Li Autonomous County, Wanning City, and Dongfang City. While our research to date has not revealed them to be on the same level of the four leading units in the totality of their documented capabilities or achievements, they nonetheless merit further examination. Dongfang and Wanning Cities’ maritime militia, for example, participated in defense of China’s HYSY-981 oil rig alongside the better-known Sanya and Tanmen maritime militia units.

Below is a map depicting all of the 31 maritime militia units under the Hainan MD jurisdiction identified as we conducted research for this series.

While local conditions produce considerable variety in unit scale and type, one can notionally estimate the total number of personnel and vessels in Hainan’s maritime militia force by assuming that the 31 units displayed are the rough median size of a militia company. Most maritime militia units, often referred to using tactical-level unit organization terms such as “fendui” (分队) or “company” (连), may comprise around 120 personnel and 10 vessels. This would yield a hypothetical total of 3,720 personnel and 310 vessels in Hainan’s maritime militia force. Such estimation is admittedly imprecise: Chinese organizational terms often lack both alignment with Western equivalents and consistency with regard to precise status and numerical size. As Kenneth Allen and Jana Allen explain, “Different Chinese and English dictionaries translate fendui (分队) as subunit, detachment, element, or battery…Although fendui refers specifically to battalions, companies, platoons, and sometimes squads, which together comprise the grassroots level (基层), a fendui can also refer to an ad hoc grouping of personnel organized for a particular function.” Moreover, characteristics specific to China’s maritime militia may accentuate organizational and numerical variation: some units lack vessels organic to the unit and rely on the requisitioning of civilian vessels for training and missions. Other detachments vary in size from 70 to over 300 personnel. Units also vary considerably in capability. Sansha City’s new maritime militia fleet, for instance, is vastly superior to the Chengmai County Maritime Militia Company.   

The overall distribution of Hainan’s maritime militia force reflects the militia-building responsibility given to each locality as contained in the commonly invoked guidance that “provinces build battalions, cities build fendui, and counties build companies” (省建大队、市建分队、县建中队). While Hainan Province lacks a battalion-level unit and adherence to this formulation is less than exact, its various cities and counties have all established maritime militia fendui or companies. Required by the Hainan MD, every single Hainanese coastal city and county with a harbor has established its own maritime militia force.  

Incentivizing Cadres

As documented throughout this series, China’s civilian and military leaders find strategic and operational advantages in the maritime militia, and have made use of these forces at sea. While key cities and counties with marine economies are sufficiently robust to support capable maritime militia forces, other localities with far less potential to form an elite maritime militia are nevertheless developing their own units. Other factors may also be driving this buildup. While this series has already surveyed the carefully-calibrated incentives available to maritime militia personnel for their services, it has not yet directly addressed the motivation of local officials involved in building the militia. This is ever-more critical: local civilian and military officials represent the key force in building the militia, which do not organize autonomously. This section will therefore consider the role of provincial politics and bureaucrats’ incentives in maritime militia building.

There is an obvious political dynamic involved in militia building, harking back to China’s radical past when revolutionary zeal constituted a criterion for cadres’ selection or promotion. To further their Party careers, local officials naturally embrace and support major political campaigns and policies. As China pursues regional predominance in maritime power militarily and economically, major national resources are being lavished on coastal provinces and their maritime forces. China is also actively working to boost the population’s maritime consciousness through a variety of measures, including by cultivating and publicly praising maritime militia leaders and their units. Hainan MD Commander Zhang Jian and Political Commissar Liu Xin wrote that leaders of People’s Armed Forces Departments (PAFD) should strive to be “rights protection commanders and political commissars,” and government leaders should serve as “rights protection secretaries or mayors.” Cadre evaluation, according to Zhang, rewards those who take the initiative in upholding China’s claimed maritime rights, suggesting increased opportunities for career advancement by local officials thus dedicated. Such grassroots forces are also intended to spread maritime awareness and consciousness among the masses, forming a component of national defense education on maritime affairs conducted by local People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Commands.  

Success in maritime militia work can help local officials impress their superiors, potentially facilitating advancement. Numerous accolades are accorded governments, institutions, enterprises, units and individuals that contribute exceptionally to national defense efforts. Sansha City recently garnered national attention when it was designated a “National Double-Support Model City” in recognition of its exceptional assistance to the military, with which the Sansha Maritime Militia cooperates. The famous Tanmen Maritime Militia Company, which received a visit from President Xi Jinping in 2013 on the first anniversary of the Scarborough Shoal Incident, had previously earned numerous plaudits from the PLA for its persistent sea service. Having recently garnered multiple awards for its armed forces work, Lingshui County has made major progress in developing its maritime militia force. Reflecting such success, nine civilian armed forces cadres who worked with the militia have since risen to township deputy mayor and deputy party secretary positions, suggesting opportunities for career mobility through militia work.  

Numerous reports celebrate the diligence of the Lingshui County PAFD Political Commissar Colonel Xing Jincheng on building up the maritime militia under his authority. After transferring to the Lingshui PAFD from his position as deputy political commissar of a PLA regiment, Colonel Xing expressed an unwillingness to relax in an easy “reserves” job. Dismissing suggestions that he rest after a long career, and ride out his final posting on Hainan’s scenic southern coast, Xing is lionized for instead devoting great energy to enforcing strict discipline in the PAFD staff and in building the Lingshui Maritime Militia. Extensive media coverage of Xing puts his efforts in the context of the latest PLA reforms; and the growing mission role of maritime rights protection, extending down to even grassroots PAFDs.  

Other reports indicate that local government officials must fulfill their responsibilities in supporting national defense mobilization work as a key function of their position or else risk losing their jobs. For example, an article in the November 2016 issue of China’s Militia featuring Guangxi Autonomous Region’s efforts in this respect included an unattributed quote referencing military work by local civilian government and Party leaders: “[those] who don’t stress the importance of and cannot grasp armed forces work are incompetent and derelict in their duties.” The article then explains how Guangxi Party and government officials have increased their maritime militia force in response to the growing mission of rights protection in the South China Sea. China has raised Military-Civilian Fusion to the level of national strategy, as documented in the 2013 doctrinal volume Science of Military Strategy. As a result, officials in coastal provinces can be subject to performance metrics in construction of “maritime mobilization forces” (such as maritime militia) when considered for career advancement.

October 2016: Sansha Maritime Militia in the Paracels prepare to conduct a joint patrol with troops of the Sansha PLA Garrison (Wen Wei Po).

A Patriotic Employment Release Valve

The reduction in PLA Army personnel by 300,000 announced in September 2015 will likely exacerbate the growing number of PLA veterans who feel neglected by China’s government and society. Recent protests in Beijing by veterans groups highlight the fact that provincial MDs and governments are ill-prepared to deal with the newly demobilized troops that are currently or will soon be deprived of their previous employment. PAFDs are the front-line military departments that handle veteran’s affairs and work to reintegrate veterans into society. Responsible for organizing and managing local militia units, the thousands of county PAFDs across China can easily funnel these veterans into various militia units, affording these former soldiers a new chance to serve in leadership positions among the militia force. Indeed, news coverage of Lingshui County states more and more demobilized veterans are entering the maritime militia, becoming “the ‘vanguard’ in maritime rights protection.” The Hainan MD thus occupies advantageous terrain for converting demobilized PLA troops into a new grassroots force for furthering Chinese maritime claims in the South China Sea.

The Sansha Maritime Militia fleet exemplifies this new trend. Our installment on this unit documented how this new “state-run militia fishing fleet” functions primarily as a force for maritime rights protection. A break from the more traditional mode of maritime militia construction, as exemplified by the Tanmen Maritime Militia, this new fleet is manned by professional mariners, law enforcement, and PLA veterans who earn substantial salaries regardless of fishing catch performance. Chinese sources anticipated correctly that most of this fleet’s 84 vessels would be delivered by the end of 2016. In December 2015, the Guangzhou Taicheng Shipbuilding Industry Co. Ltd. featured one such vessel on its website, whose interior it furnished as a subcontractor following its construction by Xijiang Shipyard. The accompanying description stated that the vessel had a “weapons and equipment room” (武备库) and an “ammunition store” (弹药库). Open sources reveal this vessel, Qiongsanshayu 000212, to be part of the new fleet of Sansha Maritime Militia vessels delivered to the state-run Sansha City Fisheries Development Company, which operate under the guise of fishing. Details available in other open sources, some of which show the Sansha Maritime Militia training to load “light weapons” onto the deck of these new vessels, help confirm the intended roles and identities of this new militia fleet.

Openly available AIS data has identified all of the 84 Sansha Maritime Militia vessels operating in the South China Sea. Intermittent AIS transmissions (available via the website Marine Traffic) indicate that at least seven different Sansha Maritime Militia vessels were present at Scarborough Shoal at varying times, and 17 more vessels observed at Mischief Reef. While vessels may transmit AIS signals when operating singularly or in small groups, maritime militia vessels most likely move in larger groups: the Sansha Maritime Militia fleet comprises six companies, which generally operate as units. Openly available satellite imagery (e.g., from Google) also shows such vessel groups moored at Mischief and Subi reefs. In September 2016, the Philippine Ministry of Defense released photos of Sansha’s maritime militia vessels at Scarborough Shoal. Despite Philippine statements in October 2016 that PRC ships had left the shoal, AIS data reveal that Sansha Maritime Militia and CCG vessels were present there as recently as February to mid-April 2017. As this report went to press, AIS data and satellite images confirmed the presence of Sansha Maritime Militia vessels at Scarborough Shoal, Fiery Cross Reef, Mischief Reef, and Subi Reef.    

7 September 2016: The Philippines released photos showing two Sansha Maritime Militia vessels present at Scarborough Shoal.
A Google Earth image dated 30 April 2016 shows a Sansha Maritime Militia vessel alongside a China Coast Guard cutter at the recently built wharf at Subi Reef.

Sansha City Fisheries Development Company, the commercial name for its state-run militia fleet, was established quietly with little mention in the PRC press. This contrasted markedly with the often widespread fanfare and in-depth reporting on even minor economic achievements by Sansha City and Hainan’s marine economy. After all, local officials have every incentive to promote their advancement by trumpeting economic development, a key performance metric—unless instructed otherwise for information security reasons. The rapid construction of this militia fleet since its establishment in February 2015 raises the prospect of China replicating this new model of maritime militia building elsewhere, perhaps in the East China Sea. As part of any Chinese effort to prepare for East China Sea operations, one might imagine an analog to the Sansha Maritime Militia in another archipelagic municipality, such as Zhejiang Province’s Zhoushan City. It is clear that China has not abandoned the standard model of building the maritime militia out of existing commercial fishing and shipping fleets. However, the combined pressures of a commercial shipbuilding slump, large numbers of unemployed veterans reentering civil society, and benefits to political and military careers in local officials may make the Sansha Maritime Militia model attractive to other provinces.

With numerous projects and investments, Hainan Province is striving to become a global tourism destination. Major influxes of Chinese and foreign tourists toting smartphones and digital cameras make the Hainan MD’s task of ensuring security and secrecy in its military facilities increasingly arduous. Sanya City, for instance, is not only a popular vacation destination but also contains the Yulin Naval Base, a leading home for China’s secretive ballistic-missile submarine force. One of the militia’s missions is the security of important infrastructure and operations such as key ports or coastal patrols. Militia personnel also reportedly perform security functions to protect military facilities and national defense construction projects.

Finally, an additional security function of Hainan’s advanced maritime militia units is escorting China’s growing fleet of research vessels that perform hydrographic and geologic surveys. We introduced one example in our installment on Sanya’s maritime militia: the Sanya Fugang Fisheries Co. Ltd.’s 30-day escort mission for China National Offshore Oil Corporation’s April 2013 exploration in the Zhongjiannan basin south of Triton Island. This was the location of the HYSY-981 oil rig incident a year later. In another example, the Guangzhou Marine Geological Survey Office stated on its website in an undated article that “for years, our office has hired fishing vessels as escorts during every seismic and drilling operation for the protection of underwater cables and to ensure the smooth and safe progress of operations.” U.S. Naval War College professor Ryan Martinson has made public some of the most recent escort operations conducted by fishing vessels for PRC survey vessels. While the extent of the Hainan Maritime Militia’s continued involvement in these escort operations remains unclear, it appears to be a growing mission for China’s maritime militia overall and worthy of additional research.      

Conclusion: People’s War Turns Seaward

This series has surveyed only a small portion of China’s total maritime militia force, the world’s largest. Part 1 examined national militia development guidelines and how they were translated by Hainan Province during its recent spate of maritime militia construction. Part 2 explored challenges confronting Hainan Province in its development of maritime militia forces and some of the solutions introduced to address them. Hainan Province is a key maritime frontier province, charged with administering all of Beijing’s expansive South China Sea claims. Yet Hainan as a province and military district does not build its maritime militia in isolation. It is, rather, one of many coastal provinces that raise such forces. In fact, other more economically and technologically advanced provinces—such as Guangdong and Zhejiang—possess greater socioeconomic bases on which to develop larger-scale, more technically sophisticated maritime militia units. Provinces construct militia forces in response to national militia guidelines under a dual-responsibility system between government/Party and PLA leaders. The resulting maritime militia fleets are thus made available to operate alongside the PLA Navy (PLAN), China Coast Guard, as well as other provinces’ maritime militia forces. Case in point: China’s defense of its HYSY-981 oil rig in 2014. PLA senior colonel and Professor Jiao Zhili of the Nanjing Army Command College’s National Defense Mobilization Department described the event as mobilization for military struggle: “during the ‘981’ offshore platform’s struggle with Vietnam in the South China Sea, the emergency mobilization of militia from Hainan, Guangdong, and Guangxi to the front lines on the perimeter was a major strategic deterrent for Vietnam.” The mobilization orders for this event originated in the former Guangzhou Military Region, now the Southern Theater Command. While maritime militia units are raised and directed by individual provinces, they fulfill roles within a grander regional military structure.

These forces are often discussed by outside observers in reference to China’s gray zone operations, while Chinese authors often invoke the tradition of People’s War when discussing the militia. The study of these irregular maritime forces begs the question of whether we are witnessing a form of “Maritime People’s War.” In Chinese strategic thought, People’s War is regarded as the mixed use of regular and irregular forces in peacetime (and wartime if necessary) to overcome a superior adversary (or multiple adversaries) through the adroit use of various tactics, deceit, and protraction. The PLA continues to uphold the core concept of People’s War, adapting and evolving specific elements of the strategy to suit modern strategic and operational needs. China’s 2006 Defense White Paper, for instance, states that the PLAN is “exploring the strategy and tactics of maritime people’s war under modern conditions.” As current strategic considerations call for prioritizing the enhancement of China’s maritime defenses, the PLA is likely expanding the operational space of People’s War to cover Chinese maritime claims to the maximum extent feasible.

For China’s provinces, the MD system is described as the “practical application of people’s war thought in the military system” and an important channel through which civilian-military integration efforts are implemented. Hainan MD Commander Zhang Jian also describes the missions of the Hainan MD’s maritime militia in terms of a Maritime People’s War. He advocates “us[ing] maritime people’s war as a means to declare sovereignty, participate in development, cooperate with law enforcement, and support combat operations.” Zhang outlined how the maritime militia will conduct missions within joint military-law enforcement-civilian defense operations, essentially making combined use of the main forces of the PLA services and the local forces of the provinces. Such amalgamation is a defining feature of People’s War. The incidents this series has explored illustrate the multifarious tools that China utilizes in order to seize tactical advantages envisioned in traditional concepts of People’s War. Provinces and their local forces undoubtedly comprise the fundamental elements of People’s War, and remarks by Chinese officials like State Councilor and Defense Minister General Chang Wanquan’s in August 2016 suggest official endorsement of such strategies. This raises questions beyond the scope of this series that require further research, particularly in reconciling China’s continued national tradition of militia building with the realities of modern warfare. This topic is certainly not absent from debate in China, as analysts wrestle with the adaptation and evolution of People’s War to suit supporting roles for the PLA of today. As China adapts a time-honored concept to serve growing maritime security interests, the maritime militia is proving critical to its operationalization.

At the very least, this series demonstrates the widespread local mandate for maritime militia building in Chinese provinces such as Hainan. Maritime militia building is directed by official policy in China’s coastal provinces. Most coastal counties and cities raise and sustain their own maritime militia units according to the scale of their respective marine economies. While the Chinese government may not often admit openly and outwardly to using its maritime militia forces to support its objectives at sea, the voices of key stakeholders inside China and the central guidance passed down to the provinces reveal much about plans to construct and use these forces. Regardless of how these forces are characterized, provinces use them to protect China’s claimed maritime rights and interests and to support an increasingly blue-water-capable PLAN by dispatching greater numbers of militia personnel away from their shorelines to increase China’s strategic depth at sea.

Numerous PLA authorities, including Commander Zhang Jian, articulate the value the presence of fishing vessels has in all of waters claimed by China to demonstrate sovereignty and protect maritime rights and interests. Deputy Director Xu Kui of the National Defense University’s National Defense Mobilization Research Department explains how the maritime militia is a key force under China’s new “military strategic guideline” of preparing for maritime military struggle, and that it must “maintain a regular presence in disputed waters.” Echoing others, Xu cites the longstanding success of the Tanmen Maritime Militia in preserving Chinese presence in the Spratlys. The Tanmen Maritime Militia offers living testimony to how even a single township or county can impact the status quo in maritime East Asia. This consideration is not lost on China’s leaders, and Hainan’s leading maritime militia units represent prime examples of the diverse avenues of force that Chinese provinces can develop and contribute in the service of overall national maritime ambitions.

For all these reasons, Hainan’s maritime militia—both the bulk of its forces overall and the elite vanguard units probed deeply in this series—will remain a key component of China’s statecraft and security efforts the South China Sea: as a standing, front-line force, with its leading units celebrated as models for others to emulate.

Conor Kennedy is a research associate in the China Maritime Studies Institute at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. He received his MA at the Johns Hopkins University – Nanjing University Center for Chinese and American Studies.

Dr. Andrew S. Erickson is a Professor of Strategy in, and a core founding member of, the U.S. Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute. He serves on the Naval War College Review’s Editorial Board. He is an Associate in Research at Harvard University’s John King Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies and an expert contributor to the Wall Street Journal’s China Real Time Report. 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, 2013). He received his Ph.D. from Princeton University. Erickson blogs at www.andrewerickson.com and www.chinasignpost.com. The views expressed here are Erickson’s alone and do not represent the policies or estimates of the U.S. Navy or any other organization of the U.S. government.

Featured Image: February 2017: Head of the Lingshui County PAFD Colonel Xing Jincheng, in plain clothes, speaks to the maritime militia under his command (CCTV News).

Hainan’s Maritime Militia: Development Challenges and Opportunities, Pt. 2

By Conor M. Kennedy and Andrew S. Erickson

As it works to improve its maritime militia, Hainan Province is engaged in multiple lines of effort. It confronts many of the same multifarious challenges that other provinces face in constructing their own maritime militia forces. These include strengthening legal frameworks, bolstering incentive structures, constructing infrastructure, and the perennial task of organizing and improving militia training. Hainan thus offers a leading-edge microcosm of the trials and triumphs of Chinese Maritime Militia development, and a bellwether of progress in managing the sprawling effort. Part 1 of this three-part coverage of maritime militia building in Hainan Province surveyed the role of provincial officials and programs, especially at the Provincial Military District (MD) level, as well as their achievements to date; Part 2 now examines in depth the remaining hurdles and bottlenecks that they are grappling with in the process. It will explain specific measures that the Hainan MD is taking to address the abovementioned issues. These include newly promulgated regulations, specific construction projects, breakthroughs in training, increased funding, and examples of the range of direct and indirect benefits maritime militia enjoy through their service.

Challenges in Policy Execution

As explained in Part 1, the Central Military Commission National Defense Mobilization Department (CMC-NDMD) promulgates guidance for nationwide maritime militia work. Provinces, for their part, must flesh out the details in law, plans, and implementation. Numerous reports on the maritime militia by various levels of PLA commands exhort provincial governments to enact more robust laws to help govern the maritime militia. While it is difficult for outsiders to access local laws on the maritime militia, PRC news reports reveal the progress provinces are making in bolstering legal mechanisms for maritime militia mobilization. They often lament the lack of legal basis for fully implementing mobilization work, specifically the lack of legal authority in enforcing and supporting the missions of the maritime militia. One recent report from Zhejiang Province’s Wenzhou City Military Subdistrict (MSD) illuminates these efforts, representing an East China Sea-based case of this broader trend permeating China’s coastal provinces. The Wenzhou MSD struggled to levy fines on maritime militia units that refused to fulfill their duty in training exercises. The abdication of duties by some maritime militiamen triggered an effort by this MSD to evaluate the Wenzhou Court system and the Fisheries Law Enforcement Department, both of which had no legal authority to enact the punishments sought by the Wenzhou MSD.

The MSD therefore established a Maritime Mobilization Office of Legislative Affairs (海上动员法治办公室) to head efforts at drafting local rules and regulations in coordination with the city government. Ensuing maritime militia regulations drawn and passed included “Measures on Maritime Militia Intelligence and Information Incentives” (海上民兵情报信息奖励办法), “Specifications for Maritime Militia Party Organization Construction” (海上民兵党组织建设规范), “Regulations on the Education and Management of Fishing Vessels and Crews on Missions” (任务渔船船员教育管理规定), and other regulations pertaining to the mobilization of reserve forces and requisition of vessels. Troops were reportedly “stunned” when one ship repair yard that refused to cooperate in registering for national defense mobilization was fined and compelled to fulfill its duties. Whereas previous attempts by local military organs to enforce penalties against militiamen abandoning their duties were often described as “loud thunder but little rain,” Wenzhou’s courts now have the teeth to enforce national defense mobilization requisition rules. Additionally, this ordeal shows that military organs have limited legal authority over the militia; and according to Militia Work Regulations (Chapter 8), must rely on local governments or the affiliated enterprise or institution of the perpetrating militia for enforcement. Improved legal measures such as Wenzhou’s allows government and military organs to impose costs for discipline violations in the maritime militia, which directly enhances the maritime militia’s responsiveness and assures their participation in training and missions. The Hainan MD’s leadership has also expressed urgency in strengthening institutional and legal support for its maritime militia development. Specific legal measures appear to be drafted by governments below the provincial level. Like Wenzhou, Sansha City promulgated similar regulations, such as “Measures for the Regular Management of Maritime Militia” and “Rules on the Use of Militia Participating in Maritime Rights Protection and Law Enforcement Actions.”

Significant variation among the economies of each province requires their respective military and civilian authorities to calibrate the incentive structure to motivate their maritime militia units effectively. No single rubric applies, as the Wenzhou MSD discovered when it realized the national standard of fines contained in “Regulations on National Defense Mobilization of Civil Transport Resources” (民用运力国防动员条例) was insufficient to prevent abdication of mobilization duty in economically vibrant Wenzhou. The head of Wenzhou MSD’s Maritime Mobilization Office of Legislative Affairs told reporters in April that compensation for fishing vessel requisition was an example of one area that “requires a great deal of research.” The current standard stipulates that authorities should normally compensate each vessel 10,000 RMB a day, rising to 20,000 RMB a day during the busy fishing season. In Wenzhou’s thriving marine economy, this standard has proven insufficient. The same problem plagued the People’s Armed Forces Department (PAFD) of Yazhou, one of Sanya City’s districts that now host the newly constructed Yazhou Central Fishing Port known to harbor Hainan’s maritime militia forces, as described in the articles on Sanya and Sansha in this series. In addition to hosting Hainan’s maritime militia forces, the Yazhou PAFD has also established its own unit, but experienced difficulties in motivating its unit during the peak period of the fishing season. As Hainan continues to modernize its fishing fleet through vessel upgrades and the replacement of old smaller vessels with larger tonnage fishing vessels, fishing enterprises will attain greater economies of scale. Mitigating lost income due to involvement in maritime militia activities will require increasing compensation.

Parallel efforts to incentivize service help motivate militiamen with financial incentives, including compensation for lost wages, injury, and equipment damage; as well as even reduced insurance costs. A survey conducted by the director of the Sansha Garrison Political Department in 2015 found that 42 percent of Sansha’s maritime militia attached greater importance to “material benefits” than “glory” in their service.

Chinese legislation for the compensation of the military, called the Regulations on Pensions and Preferential Treatments for Servicemen, also applies to the PAP and militia. To further encourage China’s militia to execute their missions, the Ministry of Civil Affairs’ codified the treatment of militia injured, missing, or killed in action in its Measures on the Support and Preferential Treatment of Militia Reserve Personnel Carrying out Diversified Military Missions, effective on 26 September 2014. These measures categorically list the various types of missions and conditions by which the member’s regimental-grade or above PLA commanding unit (county-level PAFDs are regimental-grade units) and the county-level government would determine the status of that member. Missions include supporting the PLA in combat and “participating in maritime rights protection missions.” Militia personnel can be granted the status of “martyr” (烈士), thereby entitling their families to receive money from local governments according to the militia member’s status. For example, survivors of a martyred militia member receive what are known as “Martyr Praise Funds” (褒扬金), equivalent to “30 times the national per capita disposable income.” In addition to “Martyr Praise Funds,” survivors also receive a one-time payment for the member’s “sacrifice in public service” (因公牺牲), equal to 40 months of pay. Under certain circumstances families can also receive annual payments for the militia member’s “sacrifice in public service,” which amounts to a maximum of 21,030 RMB (approximately U.S. $3,235) per the most recent adjustments by the Ministry of Civil Affairs. The military is also allowed to offer other “special payments.”     

Militia members are also taken care of and provided for if injured and disabled in the course of their duties. Depending on militia members’ status and the classification of disability they fall under, they (or their families) are granted amounts in accordance with PLA disability compensation under the “Disabled Veterans Special Care Regulations” (伤残军人优抚条例). The standards of compensation are adjusted each year as the national average income changes. According to the most recent national adjustments to the standards of compensation, disabled militia members injured in combat can receive a maximum annual payout of 66,230 RMB (approximately U.S. $10,189) — an extremely generous sum in a fishing village. Major General Wang Wenqing wrote in July 2016 that “we must provide suitable treatment and pensions according to the law for those maritime militia that are injured or sacrificed in the course of their service.” In sum, while a number of regulations already exist to assure militia members their families are taken care of no matter what might happen, authorities continue to optimize incentives for their relatively riskier missions.

Sometimes indirect benefits of service are equally valuable. In a dramatic example, executives of the Sanya Fugang Fisheries Company, home to the maritime militia that harassed USNS Impeccable in 2009, were indicted for numerous crimes of bribery in 2015. Yet Haikou Intermediate People’s Court granted them leniency, citing the extensive service by its maritime militia detachment in protecting China’s maritime rights and interests. Numerous articles written by PLA commanders and officers of local commands call for bolstering the incentive structure for the maritime militia. They suggest various means, including rewarding high-performing units and personnel regarding education, civil service examinations, employment, and promotions. In fact, this is already included in some of China’s regulations, such as in the Martyr Praise Regulations, which explains in detail the preferential treatment of martyrs’ families. Children’s education is supported through reductions in tuition and grade requirements. Regarding survivors’ employment, it states that “local government human resources and social security departments will provide preferential employment services for martyr survivors suitable for employment.” These are just a few examples of the many benefits available to address a variety of negative outcomes for maritime militiamen harmed or killed in the course of their service. Nonetheless, the PLA must rely on local governments to deliver such benefits, some of which—in a problem endemic to the lower levels of Chinese bureaucracy—may not always readily provide such support in the way that the regulations’ drafters envision.      

Since the militia are included in China’s national budget, provincial governments have to factor militia expenditures into their budgets. Maintaining a “financial reporting relationship,” the MD logistics departments report militia operating expenses and budget requests to the provincial finance departments for approval. Responding to national militia construction guidance and national maritime strategy, Hainan’s government is devoting increased resources to the maritime militia. In 2013, the Hainan Provincial Government allocated 28 million RMB (approx. U.S. $4,069,767) in special funding for province-wide maritime militia construction. This amount was, in principal, to be matched by county governments, suggesting a much greater total allocation. Correspondingly, reports show that Hainan Government’s defense expenditures have grown significantly, from 65 million RMB (approx. U.S. $9,447,674) in 2015 to over 121 million RMB (approx. U.S. $17,587,209) in 2016, an 88.7 percent boost. While specific allocation of this increased spending remains unclear, a portion of it likely went to further supporting maritime militia construction. Maritime militia bring heightened complexity in terms of financial support largely because of the cost burden of their vessels and professions. Operating costs and risk of injury or loss during normal operations is much greater for maritime militia than for land-based militia.

Multiple sources indicate that plans are underway to construct maritime militia bases, yet remain early in their implementation. MD Political Commissar Liu Xin indicated in late 2015 that sites for developing such bases were being selected and under review. MD Commander Zhang Jian suggests resolving the problem of insufficient support for the maritime militia by “integrating comprehensive supply and support bases with the construction of airports, piers, and the expansion of key islands and reefs in remote waters [in the outer reaches of the Near Seas].” The Hainan Government has approved plans granting a portion of land in Wenchang County for a rear logistics area for Sansha City, including port facilities for its newly built maritime militia fleet. The first phase of the Wenchang County project is a pier-side facility, slated to begin construction in 2017. Those same plans name the Yazhou Central Fishing Port as another harbor for the fleet, which was confirmed in photographs of Sansha City’s new maritime militia fleet mooring there. Public housing is also available for fishermen and workers on-site at Sanya’s new fishing port, conceivably a boon to maritime militia force readiness. Other proposals sent up to the provincial government call for government financial support to construct fisheries logistics bases on China’s newly built artificial islands in the Spratlys, citing the achievements of a key maritime militia unit in Sanya City

Any infrastructure that is built will certainly be dual-use, and there is great demand for improving facilities to support fisheries development in the Spratlys. Public goods and infrastructure to support Hainan’s marine fishing industry, such as port development projects, benefit its maritime militia forces directly. During meetings of the Hainan Provincial Standing Committee in December 2013 and the 10th Plenary Session of Hainan Provincial Defense Mobilization Committee in October 2014, Party Secretary Luo revealed plans to research and prepare dual-use infrastructure for the maritime militia. Hainan Governor Liu Cigui wrote in August 2016 that Sansha City will expand its grassroots governance organizations from the Paracels to the Spratlys, an initiative also confirmed by Sansha City’s leadership. This effort has also resulted in the construction of a PAFD on Fiery Cross Reef; the lack of any permanent civilian population there suggests that the PAFD exists solely to manage maritime militia. Chinese news reports also confirm a maritime militia presence on Mischief Reef.

Implementing joint military-law enforcement-civilian defense in border and coastal areas likewise requires manned militia outposts to boost security in remote areas. The new construction and reactivation of numerous militia outposts to monitor Hainan’s coast and Chinese-occupied features in the South China Sea was proposed by the director of the Hainan MD’s Training Office Jiang Yongjun. Jiang observes that “maritime defense” (海防) today encompasses a much broader scope and is more demanding than in the past in terms of functions, domains (sea, air, cyber, etc.), and content. This requires outposts at sea and on islands and reefs to serve as additional layers of surveillance and intelligence networks to increase strategic and operational depth. One identified outpost is operated by the Lingshui Autonomous County Coastal Defense Militia, located on Hainan’s Southeast coast on Niuling Mountain. The Lingshui outpost is stated to have developed beyond just a passive watch post into one that provides “active early warning,” thanks to its radar station manned by trained PLA veterans. Recording and identifying vessels transiting an area of 6,600 square nautical miles, they regularly update the Lingshui County PAFD concerning this marine traffic. Substantial reclamation and construction on Tree Island and Drummond Island in the Paracels has yielded two new “informatized militia outposts.” Other reports indicate three more outposts under construction: on Antelope Reef, Observation Bank, and Yagong Island.

Training

Training of the militia is conducted according to outlines drafted by the PLA General Staff Department, now a responsibility of the CMC-NDMD. The latest is the Outline for Militia Military Training and Evaluation implemented on 22 May 2007. This was the first militia training outline to stipulate specific training requirements for militia units that specialized in supporting non-army PLA services, such as militia units that train with and support specific PLAN units. Militia training focuses primarily on preparing militia cadres, emergency response militia, and specialized technical militia. Militia cadres, the leaders of militia units and full-time civilians engaged in militia work at the grassroots PAFDs, must not only be knowledgeable about their own training, but also possess the skills to train the personnel in their respective units. Additionally, China’s Militia Work Regulations states that the PLA services and academies should assist the MDs in militia training.

June 2013: Military and civilian officials from neighboring Ding’an County visit maritime militia cadres during their training session in Jiuzhou Township of Qiongshan District.

Training is conducted at militia training bases established by county and city PAFDs, or in capable enterprises if the county lacks a militia training base. One of Major General Wang Wenqing’s solutions for resolving training issues was to increase maritime militia use of training bases. Efforts were already underway in Hainan to provide maritime militia with facilities and bases for training. Discussions were held during a military affairs meeting held in September 2012 by Party Secretary Luo Baoming on the topic of “maritime militia building and construction of a provincial comprehensive militia training base.” While the location of the base remains unclear, it may have been established in 2013 in Qiongshan District, Haikou Municipality. Operated by the Hainan MD Training Battalion, this training base held its first week-long training session for 172 maritime militia cadres in June that year. These cadres will return to their units across Hainan to conduct the grassroots training of the bulk of maritime militia personnel. Additionally, news reports indicate that elements of the Sansha Maritime Militia were sent to a militia training base in “northern Hainan,” suggesting that they too received training from this location.  

More stringent training standards are also being applied, alongside increased recruiting of technical and professional personnel and veterans into the maritime militia force. One report concerning a unit from a district of Hainan’s capital, Haikou City, explained that some specialized maritime militia personnel became seasick in rough weather due to their lack of experience operating at sea, reflecting greater involvement of professionals from technical institutes and academies in maritime militia operations. To break in the more white-collar maritime militia personnel, this district’s PAFD held most of its training activities at sea. In another instance, members of the Lingshui County Maritime Militia complained about their evaluation scores after their PAFD increased standards and difficulty during training exercises in 2016. To rectify previous discipline violations, the Lingshui PAFD Political Commissar has reportedly dismissed under-performing cadres and personnel and has increased training standards to reflect real combat requirements. He even personally led at-sea training of the Lingshui Maritime Militia in the Paracels and Spratlys for months on end. Diligent PAFD leaders and cadres are critical to ensuring higher quality training standards more aligned with mission operational requirements, thereby increasing maritime militia capabilities and discipline.

The February 2017 news clip below shows Lingshui County Maritime Militia training, led by Political Commissar Xing Jincheng (who holds the rank of Colonel), including at-sea training and the inside of their outpost on Niuling Mountain.

February, 2017: This screen capture of news coverage on Lingshui County Maritime Militia depicts a recent exercise featuring this unit conducting at-sea weapons training. The caption in this image reads “Maritime Militia Emergency Response Detachment Platoon Leader Lin Zhongjian.”

PAFDs strive to hold maritime militia meetings and training sessions during the offseason to avoid imposing economic losses on maritime militia members, as holding up a vessel at pier-side can cost its owner tens of thousands of RMB in forgone fishing income. They must also account for the training schedules of active duty units in order to coordinate militia training with the PLA. The Hainan MD leadership describes maritime militia training with the following formulation: “fishing and training while at sea, concentrated training in rotations while in harbor, selected opportunities for joint training, regular three-lines joint training, and intensified assault training when on the brink of war” (出海边鱼边训、在港集中轮训、择机拉动合训、定期三线联训、临战突击强训). Commander Zhang specifies that the MD system leads basic training on land, while special training at sea is facilitated by the PLAN and China Coast Guard (CCG). Limitations in available data make it difficult to ascertain the true extent to which the PLAN or CCG trains the maritime militia. For example, an older report from the 2007 Sanya City Yearbook states the Yulin Naval Base worked with the PLA Garrison in Sanya City to train over 1,178 militia members in two years, yet lacks details regarding the content of the training.

Militia units or personnel with more specialized training requirements may be sent to receive further training from the MSD, MD, or active duty troops stationed in the province. Units with a greater demand for technical specialization or coordination with PLA services can obtain assistance from the MD to make arrangements for such training. As reported by the South Sea Fleet Headquarters Military Affairs Department, PLAN active duty units coordinate with MSDs and PAFDs to train maritime militia “specialized naval militia detachments” (海军民兵专业分队). While militia training requirements are outlined at the national level, the specific arrangements at the local levels are suitably tailored to ensure militia units receive the training they need and the PLA has an operationally effective militia force at its disposal.

Training in Joint Military-Law Enforcement-Civilian (Jun-jing-min) Defense

Efforts to incorporate maritime militia forces from the Hainan MD into large scale joint military-law enforcement-civilian defense exercises are reflected in the following recent exercises:

  • August 2014: A water garrison district (水警区) of the PLAN South Sea Fleet (SSF) organized a military-law enforcement-militia joint exercise in the Gulf of Tonkin involving various naval ships and aircraft, PLA Air Force (PLAAF) elements, law enforcement cutters, and maritime militia. The live-fire exercise simulated joint escort for a convoy of transport ships as well as the defense of a security zone set up around a drilling platform. The numerous threats presented included enemy ship ambushes and approaching fishing vessels and frogmen.
  • November 2014: The Hainan MD organized a military-law enforcement-militia joint exercise at an undisclosed location in Hainan involving “tens of thousands” of personnel across multiple bureaucracies. The theme of this exercise was to prevent the landing of enemy agents by using People’s Armed Police forces at their landing site and CCG ships and maritime militia fishing vessels to repel the enemy landing force. This exercise was designed primarily to practice coordinating various forces under a joint command system and involving local military and civilian leaders directly in the command of local forces, rather than passing them off to the military.
  • July 2016: A PLAN SSF Base organized an exercise for defense of “an important location” (要地防御实兵对抗演习). This included anti-air defense forces, shore-based missiles, fighter aircraft, submarines, mine warfare, special forces, local security forces, and both land-based militia as well as maritime militia. Some of the maritime militia involved are identified as belonging to a unit in Sanya City’s Tianya District, suggesting that the exercise was organized by the Yulin Navy Base in Sanya City.
  • August 2016: A naval district of the PLAN SSF organized another iteration of the same type of joint exercise held in August 2014, again focused on escort and defense of an oil rig in the Gulf of Tonkin. Asserting that joint defense command and coordination methods are improving, this exercise displayed greater intensity than the 2014 exercise. Intensified contested conditions, mine warfare, and submarine warfare were introduced, attempting to improve and expand joint operations in the South China Sea. All services were involved, including even PLAAF H-6 Bombers, which flew overhead.

Two of these joint training events were organized by the PLAN South Sea Fleet and appear modeled on the May 2014 HYSY-981 oil rig incident. Active involvement of maritime militia alongside some of China’s most advanced platforms—in exercises that simulate recent events that brought the PRC and Vietnam to the brink of conflict—reflects serious approaches to integrating the maritime militia into the nation’s joint maritime forces.

Conclusion: Making Patriotism Pay

Part 1 illustrated how developments in national militia construction guidelines were adopted by China’s key maritime frontier province and how Hainan’s leadership envisions the operational use of its maritime militia. This article, Part 2 in a three-article series evaluating Hainan Province’s overall development of its maritime militia, has introduced some of the major impediments that could hinder the successful construction and use of maritime militia forces in China.The Hainan MD is actively addressing these challenges to ensure its maritime militia is effectively incentivized even in the event of individual members’ injury or death in the line of duty, receives sufficient training both independently and with active duty forces, and has access to civil-military dual-use infrastructure that will give these forces a solid foundation from which to launch required missions. The economic benefits from port infrastructure developments in Hainan will directly improve the commercial underpinnings of its maritime militia. A growing network of militia outposts is improving the militia’s abilities to monitor nearby waters. PAFDs are moving in-step with Sansha City’s effort to expand grassroots governance structures throughout Chinese-occupied features in the Paracels and Spratlys, thereby providing a PLA presence for on-the-ground militia management. Advanced training practices at bases and with active duty forces are incorporating Hainan’s maritime militia into its joint military-law enforcement-civilian defense planning. Challenges may become increasingly acute as its maritime militia forces grow in technical sophistication and require more intense or tailored training, likely placing a heavier burden on the Hainan MD. Any ambitious use of the maritime militia must be supported with the right mix of incentives, a continual focal point in the militia work of local civilian and military authorities that is slowly becoming more regulated. With the overall national guidelines for militia work and specific measures to see its implementation having been examined, the next and final installment in this series will present some of the results of these efforts as well as discuss other potential factors driving maritime militia building. It will also raise additional considerations for assessing China’s Maritime Militia more broadly.

Conor Kennedy is a research associate in the China Maritime Studies Institute at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. He received his MA at the Johns Hopkins University – Nanjing University Center for Chinese and American Studies.

Dr. Andrew S. Erickson is a Professor of Strategy in, and a core founding member of, the U.S. Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute. He serves on the Naval War College Review’s Editorial Board. He is an Associate in Research at Harvard University’s John King Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies and an expert contributor to the Wall Street Journal’s China Real Time Report. 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, 2013). He received his Ph.D. from Princeton University. Erickson blogs at www.andrewerickson.com and www.chinasignpost.com. The views expressed here are Erickson’s alone and do not represent the policies or estimates of the U.S. Navy or any other organization of the U.S. government.

Featured Image: Image of the Tanmen Maritime Militia Company in the July 2016 edition of China’s Militia.