China’s Maritime Militia and Fishing Fleets: A Primer for Operational Staffs and Tactical Leaders, Pt. 1

This article originally featured in the Military Review and is republished with permission. It will be republished in two parts. Read it in its original form here.

By Shuxian Luo and Jonathan G. Panter

Articles about gray-zone operations—states’ use of nontraditional forces and methods to pursue security objectives without triggering armed conflict—are unavoidable in military professional literature.1 This is particularly true for commentary about Russia and the People’s Republic of China (PRC).2 These states’ embrace of gray-zone operations is unsurprising since such operations are an attractive means for relatively disadvantaged powers to challenge a stronger rival like the United States. Among the most important of China’s gray-zone forces and actors is its maritime militia. In addition, China’s overtly civilian distant-water fishing (DWF) fleets, which are affiliated to varying degrees with Chinese government agencies, have been subject to growing international scrutiny.

Vessels in both groups help China rewrite the rules of freedom of navigation, buttress its maritime claims, secure vital resources, and extend its economic reach across the globe. In the coming years, U.S. Department of Defense civilians and military personnel throughout the joint force will encounter these nontraditional maritime forces engaged in a variety of operations across several geographic combatant commands. Failure to recognize the purpose, capabilities, or limitations of these vessels will impede U.S. forces’ ability to accomplish assigned missions, defend themselves, and avoid unintentional escalation.

China’s maritime actors have drawn growing attention from both scholars and defense professionals. However, the political context provided by academic research may not reach practitioners who rely on shorter, descriptive articles about Chinese capabilities.3 Bridging this gap can support more informed assessments of Chinese vessels’ possible intentions, assisting military staffs and leaders in developing rules of engagement, tactical procedures, and reporting criteria.

The article proceeds in three parts. It begins by analyzing the domestic sources of Chinese grand strategy that influence the PRC’s maritime policies and activities. The next section describes China’s maritime militia and fishing fleets, their strategic purposes, and their strengths and limitations. The final section addresses the challenges these actors pose to U.S. forces, with particular emphasis on the links between force protection and unintended escalation.

China’s Grand Strategy: Misperceptions and Reality

“Grand strategy” is the highest rung of a state’s foreign policy; it is a unifying theme linking a state’s various efforts to secure its own survival and welfare in the international system. As defined by political scientist Richard Betts, it is “a practical plan to use military, economic, and diplomatic means to achieve national interests (or political ends) over time, with the least feasible cost in blood and treasure.”4 The key phrase is “over time,” because what distinguishes “grand strategy” from “strategy” is some consistent thread between a state’s individual policies.

However, as Betts observes, the concept of grand strategy is too often applied retroactively to decisions that were merely ad hoc responses to a problem. Moreover, “[t]he term ‘grand’ conjures up unrealistic images of sweeping and far-seeing purpose, ingenuity, direction, and adroitness.”5 These critiques neatly capture many recurring tropes about China’s grand strategy, including “hide and bide,” “a game of Go,” and invocations of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War (especially “defeating the enemy without fighting”).6 The first refers to China’s late paramount leader (from 1978 until 1989) Deng Xiaoping’s philosophy that China should “hide its strength and bide its time”; the second holds that Western strategists see the world as a chess game (seeking decisive battle), but Chinese strategists see it like the board game “Wei Qi” (encircling the enemy over the long term); and the third suggests that Chinese strategists rely on deception and delay more than their Western counterparts (who, ostensibly, are avid readers of Carl von Clausewitz’s On War).7

These maxims sensationalize Chinese strategic thought as permanent, infinitely patient, devious, and opaque to the Western mind. To be sure, they contain some truth, but the pop version of Chinese grand strategy perpetuates two false assumptions (see the table below). The first is that China is a unitary actor rather than a state with many domestic audiences (interest groups with varying degrees of power). The second is that Chinese policy priorities are fixed over time, despite the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) shifting legitimating narratives for its internal audiences. The implication is serious: If China is incapable of change, what is the point of any U.S. policy but containment or confrontation?8

The PRC’s long-term plans are more nuanced. China has a grand strategy, but one that is rooted in its governance structure and the CCP’s narratives of legitimacy. U.S. defense professionals dealing with gray-zone forces should understand how China’s maritime disputes affect the CCP’s internal calculus about the stability of its governance. Knowing what domestic audiences and CCP narratives are impacted by, say, an at-sea encounter between U.S. warships and Chinese fishing boats, can inform analyses of the risks and benefits of such interactions.

While it remains subject to debate whether Beijing pursues a full-fledged revisionist goal of displacing the United States in the Indo-Pacific region and challenging U.S. dominance internationally, a broader and consistent theme has emerged in China’s official documents and leadership speeches: that of Chinese national “rejuvenation,” or a restoration of its past position of prestige in world affairs.9 In a recent article, political scientist Avery Goldstein argues that rejuvenation has been a consistent grand strategy of the PRC alongside a second strategy: survival of the state with the CCP as its sole ruler. During the Cold War, as the PRC faced existential threats from outside, survival dominated rejuvenation. It remains the regime’s “topmost vital, or ‘core’ interest” today, but China’s greater safety leaves room for it to pursue rejuvenation.10 Since 1992, Goldstein argues, rejuvenation has undergone three phases: “hide and bide” under Deng; “peaceful rise” (reassuring other countries of China’s benign intentions) in the 1990s; and the “China dream” (increased assertiveness) under Xi Xinping. Upon taking power in 2012, Xi considered “hide and bide” and “peaceful rise” anachronistic, preferring an “activist approach” in which the PRC would utilize its power to “more resolutely resist challenges to core interests.”11

Both grand strategies—rejuvenation and regime survival—depend on safeguarding China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and maintaining economic development.12 First, the CCP’s domestic legitimacy since its founding has rested heavily on the party’s demonstrative capabilities in defending the country from foreign interference. Its main competitor in the 1930s and 1940s, the Kuomintang, received both U.S. and Union of Soviet Socialist Republics support in World War II. During the ensuing Chinese Civil War, therefore, the CCP sought domestic support by claiming that it was the only side unsullied by foreign influence.13

Table. Misperceptions about China’s Grand Strategy (Table by Jonathan G. Panter) [Click to Expand]
After the CCP triumphed over the Kuomintang in 1949, its claim to be the sole party that could defend China from the machinations of foreign powers remained an enduring part of its foreign policy and domestic legitimacy. This precipitated an intervention in the Korean War in 1950 and a war with India in 1962. Concerns about territorial integrity and sovereignty at times even outweighed ideological alignment. In the 1960s, the PRC supported North Vietnam to counteract both U.S. and Soviet presence in Southeast Asia and used force to contest Soviet encroachments along the PRC’s disputed border.14 In 1974 and 1988, China fought Vietnam to seize land features in the contested Paracels and Spratlys, and to secure a stronger position in the South China Sea.15

A second major component of the CCP’s legitimacy was its economic program of collectivization and central planning. But after the humanitarian disasters and internal turmoil resulting from the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward, the CCP in the late 1970s began to downplay communism and Maoism. Under the reform-minded Deng Xiaoping and his allies, the CCP emphasized economic growth as the source of the party’s legitimacy and initiated radical economic, but not political, liberalization. But this economic opening, though conceived as a source of legitimacy, also threatened the regime’s support by introducing socioeconomic inequality, changing values, and corruption.16 The 1989 Tian’anmen prodemocracy protests and the demise of the socialist bloc in the early 1990s compounded the problem.

Against this backdrop, the CCP launched a propaganda campaign to shore up the party’s legitimacy and discredit Western-style liberalization, reinforcing the memory of the “century of humiliation” (1839–1949) when foreign powers invaded China, imposed extraterritoriality in treaty ports, restricted indigenous economic regulation, and extracted war indemnities.17 The years of backwardness and suffering at the hands of foreign powers engendered a persistent Chinese yearning for the country’s restoration as a strong, prosperous, and respected power.18 At the same time, new parochial interests and actors emerged outside the traditional Chinese foreign policy establishment during the reform era, forcing the CCP to cope with competition among bureaucrats, business elites, and local governments alongside an explosion in news outlets and internet users.19 Many of these new actors constrain state action on foreign policy issues, including those on territorial integrity and sovereignty that resonate deeply with the Chinese nationalist sentiments.20

In this way, economic growth has reinforced the CCP’s original claims to its right to rule: the “protection” of Chinese territorial independence and sovereignty. The pursuit of marine resources in the three million square kilometers of “maritime national territory” that incorporates the Chinese exclusive economic zone and continental shelf is thus framed in both economic and sovereign terms.21 First, the marine resources in these areas contribute both to China’s domestic food needs and its export economy. China is by far the world’s largest producer of “captured” (nonfarmed) fish, comprising 15 percent of world total, and the largest exporter of captured product. Of the 3.1 million fishing vessels in Asia, China operates 864,000 of them.22 Second, China’s growing reliance on sea lines of communication for trade in energy and other goods has increased Beijing’s resolve to protect strategic waterways within and beyond China’s maritime boundary.23

The growing need to safeguard maritime territories and jurisdictional waters in China’s near seas has incentivized the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)—which has, since the 1990s, focused on preparing for a Taiwan scenario—to share the burden of new missions with nonmilitary state actors. In its defense white paper from the year 2000, China for the first time described its frontier defense as a “joint military-civilian land and sea border management system, headed by the military and with a sharing of responsibilities between the military and the civilian authorities.”24 Since then, China has incrementally moved away from a relatively navy-centric approach toward a multiagent, division-of-labor method for safeguarding its maritime sovereignty and interests. Since 2005, China has preferred to employ the PLA Navy (PLAN) in background roles, relying instead on maritime law enforcement agencies and the maritime militia as its frontline responses to maritime disputes and contingencies.25

South China Sea Claims (Graphic courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) [Click to Expand]
Although the United States takes no position on the ownership of the contested maritime territories, PRC maritime sovereignty and jurisdiction claims challenge U.S. interests in the region in several ways. First, China seeks the right to regulate and restrict the activities of foreign military vessels and aircraft operating within its exclusive economic zone, which is at odds with norms on freedom of navigation and has been the central source of friction between U.S. and Chinese ships and aircraft in the South China Sea.26 Second, it attempts to erode U.S. alliance relationships, especially those with Japan and the Philippines, with whom China has unsettled maritime territorial and boundary disputes.27 Finally, the PRC continues to expand power projection and anti-access/area denial capabilities to cover a growing portion of the western Pacific.28

Soldiers attend a flag conferral ceremony 21 July 2013 during the official launch of Sansha City’s maritime militia. (Photo by Zhou Xiaogang, Xinhua News Agency)

While employing maritime law enforcement and fishing ships in lieu of naval assets may enable China to avoid crossing the threshold of military conflict outright when asserting its maritime claims, it can still complicate crisis management for both the United States and China in the event of a maritime incident. Past major crises between two countries in the contemporary era illustrate the potential dangers. One of the most serious incidents occurred in 1999 when the U.S. Air Force accidentally bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, killing three Chinese journalists. Despite a lack of evidence that the bombing was intentional, the incident triggered violent anti-American mass protests in China.29 The affair highlights the sensitivity of any incident, mistaken or otherwise, resulting in Chinese civilian casualties.

The Hainan Island incident in 2001, in which a Chinese fighter jet collided with a U.S. reconnaissance plane during an attempted interception, highlights a different potential source of crisis escalation: distortion of information within the Chinese political system between local and central authorities. According to former senior U.S. civilian and military officials, the local naval aviation authorities in Hainan may have falsely reported to high-level Chinese leadership that the U.S. plane intentionally crashed into the Chinese fighter (which was technically impossible).30 Crisis management in an incident involving Chinese fishing boats, whether or not registered as maritime militia, entails both types of danger.

China’s Maritime Militia and Fishing Fleets

The PRC defines its militia as “an armed mass organization composed of civilians retaining their regular jobs,” a component of China’s armed forces, and an “auxiliary and reserve force” of the PLA.31 Once conceived as a major component in the concept of “People’s War,” the militia in contemporary Chinese military planning is now tasked with assisting the PLA “by performing security and logistics functions in war.”32 The maritime militia, a separate organization from both the PLAN and China Coast Guard (CCG), consists of citizens working in the marine economy who receive training from the PLA and CCG to perform tasks including but not limited to border patrol, surveillance and reconnaissance, maritime transportation, search and rescue, and auxiliary tasks in support of naval operations in wartime (see figure 1).33

Figure 1. Growth of China’s Maritime Forces since 2000 (Figure from Advantage at Sea: Prevailing with Integrated All-Domain Naval Power, December 2020, by the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Marines, and the U.S. Navy) [Click to Expand]
The National Defense Mobilization Commission (NDMC) system, comprised of a national-level NDMC overseen jointly by the Chinese State Council and the PLA’s Central Military Commission and local NDMCs at provincial, municipal, and county levels with a similar dual civilian-military command structure at each level, has traditionally been tasked to manage administration and mobilization of the militia. Following the PLA’s 2016 reorganization, a National Defense Mobilization Department (NDMD) has been established under the Central Military Commission to oversee the provincial-level military districts and take charge of the PLA’s territorial administrative responsibilities including mobilization work. The head of the NDMD is appointed as the secretary general of the national NDMC, in which China’s premier and defense minister serve as the director and deputy director, respectively.34 In addition to the NDMC line, the State Commission of Border and Coastal Defense system—also subject to a dual civilian-military leadership—has its own command structures running from the national to local levels, and it shares responsibility for militia administration, mobilization, and border defense. There is a significant crossover between the lines of authority.35

The militia has played a major role in asserting Chinese maritime claims in the South China Sea. This includes high-profile coercive incidents such as the 2009 harassment of USNS Impeccable, the 2012 Scarborough Shoal standoff, and the 2014 HD-981 clash.36 Xi’s 2013 trip to Hainan—the island province with administrative authority over the South China Sea that has organized local fishing fleets into active maritime militia units—unleashed a nationwide push (see figure 2) to build the militia into a genuine third arm of China’s “PLA-law enforcement-militia joint defense” maritime sovereignty defense strategy.37 Since it is comprised of both civilians and soldiers, according to the Chinese rationale, the militia can be deployed to strengthen control of China’s “maritime territory” while avoiding the political and diplomatic ramifications that might otherwise be associated with military involvement.38

Read Part Two here.

Shuxian Luo is a PhD candidate in international relations at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University. Her research examines China’s crisis behavior and decision-making processes, maritime security in the Indo-Pacific, and U.S. relations with Asia. She holds a BA in English from Peking University, an MA in China studies from SAIS, and an MA in political science from Columbia University.

Jonathan G. Panter is a PhD candidate in political science at Columbia University. His research examines the origin of naval command-and-control practices. He previously served as a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy, deploying twice in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. He holds a BA in government from Cornell University and an MPhil and MA in political science from Columbia University.

The authors thank Ian Sundstrom and Anand Jantzen for their comments on earlier drafts of this article.


  1. Lyle J. Morris et al., Gaining Competitive Advantage in the Gray Zone: Response Options for Coercive Aggression Below the Threshold of Major War (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2019), 7–12, accessed 16 November 2020,; Alessio Patalano, “When Strategy Is ‘Hybrid’ and Not ‘Grey’: Reviewing Chinese Military and Constabulary Coercion at Sea,” Pacific Review 31, no. 6 (2018): 811–39. Patalano argues that use of the term “gray-zone” operations to describe China’s activities is misleading because it suggests they are unlikely to escalate to war. He argues that these constabulary activities form part of a larger hybrid strategy that does, in fact, raise the risk of armed conflict. Donald Stoker and Craig Whiteside, “Blurred Lines: Gray-Zone Conflict and Hybrid War—Two Failures of American Strategic Thinking,” Naval War College Review 73, no. 1 (Winter 2020): 13–48. Stoker and Whiteside provide a critical perspective on the term “gray zone” that argues it is poorly defined, distorts history, and raises the risk of conflict escalation.
  2. In 2020, the term “gray zone” appeared in nearly every issue of the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings and in every issue of Military Review. See, for example, Charles M. Kelly, “Information on the Twenty-First Century Battlefield: Proposing the Army’s Seventh Warfighting Function,” Military Review 100, no. 1 (January-February 2020): 62–68.
  3. For a concise description of the maritime militia, see Conor M. Kennedy and Andrew S. Erickson, China Maritime Report No. 1: China’s Third Sea Force, The People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia: Tethered to the PLA (Newport, RI: U.S. Naval War College, China Maritime Studies Institute, 2017), accessed 16 November 2020, For a visual recognition guide, see Office of Naval Intelligence, “China People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), Coast Guard, and Government Maritime Forces: 2019-2020 Recognition and Identification Guide,” October 2019, accessed 23 November 2020,
  4. Richard K. Betts, “The Grandiosity of Grand Strategy,” Washington Quarterly 42, no. 4 (Winter 2020): 8.
  5. Ibid., 7.
  6. On “Go,” see Henry Kissinger, On China (New York: The Penguin Press, 2011), 2–3, 22–32; Keith Johnson, “What Kind of Game is China Playing,” Wall Street Journal (website), 11 June 2011, accessed 16 November 2020, On “hide and bide” and Sun Tzu’s counsel about winning without fighting, see articles in the September-October 2020 issue of Military Review.
  7. These two authors are not as opposed to one another on this point as a simplistic reading would suggest. Sun Tzu maintains that strategic defense can win wars. Carl von Clausewitz argues that a purely defensive war is impossible, but tactical defense has advantages over attack. But both agree on the source of defensive advantage: the waiting defender can strengthen their position, and the maneuvering attacker expends energy and resources.
  8. For an example of how this sort of theorizing can influence policy decisions at the highest levels, see Alan Rappeport, “A China Hawk Gains Prominence as Trump Confronts Xi on Trade,” New York Times (website), 3 November 2018, accessed 16 November 2020,
  9. Oriana Skylar Mastro, “The Stealth Superpower: How China Hid Its Global Ambitions,” Foreign Affairs 98, no. 1 (January-February 2019): 31–39; Michael D. Swaine, “Creating an Unstable Asia: the U.S. Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2 March 2018, accessed 16 November 2020, Mastro argues that China seeks to take the United States’ place as the regional political, economic, and military hegemon in East Asia and to challenge the United States internationally without replacing it as the “leader of a global order.” By contrast, Swaine questions the depiction of China as an “implacable adversary” that seeks to challenge the United States regionally and internationally and argues that treating China this way is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  10. Avery Goldstein, “China’s Grand Strategy under Xi Jinping,” International Security 45, no. 1 (Summer 2020): 164–201.
  11. Ibid., 172­–79.
  12. Michael D. Swaine, “China’s Assertive Behavior—Part One: On ’Core Interests,’” China Leadership Monitor, no. 34 (Winter 2011); Andrew Scobell et al., China’s Grand Strategy: Trends, Trajectories, and Long-Term Competition (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2020), 11–14, accessed 16 November 2020,
  13. John Garver, Foreign Relations of the People’s Republic of China (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1993), 25–26.
  14. Thomas J. Christensen, Worse than a Monolith: Alliance Politics and Problems of Coercive Diplomacy in Asia (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011), 184–88; M. Taylor Fravel, Strong Borders, Secure Nation: Cooperation and Conflict in China’s Territorial Disputes (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008), 201–9.
  15. Fravel, Strong Borders, Secure Nation, 267–99.
  16. Jinghan Zeng, The Chinese Communist Party’s Capacity to Rule: Ideology, Legitimacy and Party Cohesion (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 47; see also Jonathan D. Spence, The Search for Modern China (New York: W. W. Norton, 1999), 624–46, 692–96.
  17. Jessica Chen Weiss, Powerful Patriots: Nationalist Protest in China’s Foreign Relations (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 9; for a deeper description of the “Century of Humiliation,” see Spence, The Search for Modern China, chaps. 7–11.
  18. Garver, Foreign Relations of the People’s Republic of China, 4–9, 16–18; Orville Schell and John Delury, Wealth and Power: China’s Long March to the Twenty-First Century (New York: Random House, 2013).
  19. Linda Jakobson and Dean Knox, “New Foreign Policy Actors in China” (policy paper, Stockholm: SIPRI, 2010), 24–33, 43–46.
  20. Suisheng Zhao, “Nationalism’s Double Edge,” Wilson Quarterly 29, no. 4 (Autumn 2005): 76–82.
  21. M. Taylor Fravel and Alexander Liebman, “Beyond the Moat: The PLAN’s [People’s Liberation Army Navy] Evolving Interests and Potential Influence,” in The Chinese Navy: Expanding Capabilities, Evolving Roles, ed. Phillip C. Saunders et al. (Washington, DC: National Defense University Press, 2011), 57–59; Daniel M. Hartnett and Frederic Vellucci, “Toward a Maritime Security Strategy: An Analysis of Chinese Views Since the Early 1990s,” in Saunders et al., The Chinese Navy: Expanding Capabilities, Evolving Roles, 98–99.
  22. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020: Sustainability in Action (Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2020), 10–11, 41–42, In addition, as of the last available estimate in 2017, the western Pacific accounted for the second largest number of landings (catches), and the fastest annual growth of landings.
  23. Ian Storey, “China’s ‘Malacca Dilemma,’” China Brief 6, no. 8 (12 April 2006) accessed 16 November 2020,; David Lai and Roy Kamphausen, introduction to Assessing the People’s Liberation Army in the Hu Jintao Era, ed. Roy Kamphausen, David Lai, and Travis Tanner (Carlisle, PA: U.S. Army War College, 2014), 2–3; Li Nan, “The Evolution of China’s Naval Strategy and Capabilities: From ‘Near Coast’ and ‘Near Seas’ to ‘Far Seas,’” Asian Security 5, no. 2 (2009): 144–69.
  24. “China’s National Defense in 2000” (Beijing: Information Office of the State Council of PRC, October 2000), accessed 18 November 2020, This statement was corroborated by a report released in 2013 by the National Institute for Security Studies (NIDS) under Japan’s Defense Ministry, which noted the shift of maritime law enforcement responsibilities from the PLAN to maritime law enforcement agencies began in 2001.
  25. Alexander Chieh-cheng Huang, “The PLA and Near Seas Maritime Sovereignty Disputes,” in The People’s Liberation Army and Contingency Planning in China, ed. Andrew Scobell et al. (Washington, DC: National Defense University Press, 2015), 291. China now commands the largest maritime law enforcement force in the world; for additional information, see Andrew S. Erickson, Joshua Hickey, and Henry Holst, “Surging Second Sea Force: China’s Maritime Law Enforcement Forces, Capabilities, and Future in the Gray Zone and Beyond,” U.S. Naval War College Review 72, no. 2 (Spring 2019): 1–25.
  26. Ronald O’Rourke, Maritime Territorial and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) Disputes Involving China: Issues for Congress, Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report R42784 (Washington, DC: CRS Report (R42784), 24 May 2018), 8–12.
  27. Andrew D. Taffer, “Threat and Opportunity: Chinese Wedging in the Senkaku/Diaoyu Dispute,” Asian Security (2019).
  28. Mastro, “The Stealth Superpower,” 36–37; for a more detailed assessment of China’s anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities, see Stephen Biddle and Ivan Oelrich, “Future Warfare in the West Pacific: Chinese Antiaccess/Area Denial, U.S. AirSea Battle, and Command of Commons in East Asia,” International Security 41, no. 1 (Summer 2016): 7–48. Biddle and Oelrich argue that Chinese A2/AD capabilities are more constrained than prevailing analyses acknowledge because the technologies underpinning successful A2/AD face physical limits when applied at great distance and over noncomplex backgrounds such as the ocean; for an assessment of Chinese sea control capabilities, see Ryan D. Martinson, “Counter-Intervention in Chinese Naval Strategy,” Journal of Strategic Studies (2020).
  29. Kurt M. Campbell and Richard Weitz, “The Chinese Embassy Bombing: Evidence of Crisis Management?,” in Managing Sino-American Crises, ed. Michael D. Swaine, Zhang Tuosheng, and Danielle F. S. Cohen (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2006), 327.
  30. Susan Shirk, China: Fragile Superpower (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 235; Dennis C. Blair and David B. Bonfili, “The April 2001 EP-3 Incident: The U.S. Point of View,” in Swaine, Zhang, and Cohen, Managing Sino-American Crises, 380–81.
  31. “Zhonghua renmin gongheguo minbing gongzuo tiaoli” [Decree of the PRC on militia work], Central Military Commission of the People’s Republic of China, December 1990, accessed 20 November 2020,
  32. Dennis J. Blasko, The Chinese Army Today: Tradition and Transformation for the 21st Century, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2012), 29.
  33. Bernard Cole, The Great Wall at Sea: China’s Navy in the Twenty-First Century (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2010), 79.
  34. Blasko, The Chinese Army Today, 40–41; Morgan Clemens and Michael We ber, “Rights Protection versus Warfighting: Organizing the Maritime Militia for Peace and War,” in China’s Maritime Gray Zone Operations, ed. Andrew S. Erickson and Ryan D. Martinson (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2019), 199–200; “Jungai hou de guofang dongyuanbu” [The National Defense Mobilization Department after the PLA reorganization], China Daily (website), 25 November 2016, accessed 18 November 2020,
  35. Andrew S. Erickson and Conor M. Kennedy, “China’s Maritime Militia” (Arlington, VA: CNA Corporation, 7 March 2016), 10, accessed 18 November 2020,; Kennedy and Erickson, China Maritime Report No. 1, 7n2.
  36. U.S. Department of Defense, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2020: Annual Report to Congress (Washington, DC: Office of the Secretary of Defense, 21 August 2020), 71, accessed 16 November 2020,
  37. “Hainansheng tanmen haishang minbinglian jianshe chengji tuchu” [Hainan Tanmen made outstanding accomplishment in maritime militia company construction], National Defense, no. 7 (2013).
  38. He Zhixiang, “Tan haishang minbing jianshe ‘si naru’” [On the four integrations in maritime militia construction], National Defense, no. 4 (2013): 36–37.

Featured Image: Chinese fishing boats (AFP file photo)

One thought on “China’s Maritime Militia and Fishing Fleets: A Primer for Operational Staffs and Tactical Leaders, Pt. 1”

  1. This vermin fleet are sitting ducks .
    A couple of drones dropping some air-fuel barrels above them would vaporise them .
    Do the planet a favour !

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