Ambiguous, illegitimate maritime militia: A factor constitutes to 'Grey zone' in the East Sea (Part I)
|Chinese maritime militia vessels prevented Philippine coast guard ships from approaching Second Thomas Shoal on November 10, 2023. (Source: AP News)
Within the framework of the 15th International Conference on the East Sea (October 25-26), delegates touched on role of the Coast Guards and maritime militia which have partly constituted to a "grey zone" in the East Sea. In addition to the Coast Guard, "they can use some other forces such as the maritime militia, a force with functions lining between civil and military. In the law, these terms and regulations are not clearly defined. Sometimes maritime militia force can be used to carry out military tasks in sovereignty and territorial disputes", Associate Professor, Dr. Nguyen Hong Thao explained.
In fact, over the past few months, the focus of attention in the South China Sea (also known as the East Sea in Vietnam) has been the tension between the Philippines and China in the Second Thomas Shoal. Chinese ships repeatedly tried to prevent, collide, and even spray water cannons at Philippine vessels carrying out the mission of supplying soldiers on the stranded ship BRP Sierra Madre in the disputed shoal.
In the above incidents, China's maritime militia remained closely watchful of the Philippine Coast Guard ships in the field. The Philippines has repeatedly criticized the actions of Chinese coast guard ships and maritime militia as dangerous, violating international law regarding the country's routine supply activities. China's naval militia is increasingly essential in promoting its claims in the South China Sea.
The development of China's maritime militia
The formation of China's maritime militia can be traced back to 1950 when the People's Republic of China was born and focused on controlling coastal areas. Since the 1960s, the Chinese navy began training maritime militia and used this force to support many missions.
Since the 1980s, many new developments have occurred, such as China converting its coast guard into maritime militia units, establishing maritime militia in Tan Mon in 1985, establishing the first bases in the Spratlys in 1988..., creating conditions to promote the role of naval militia.
Maritime militia is a force belonging to businesses, associations, and establishments with marine-related activities in provinces, cities, and localities (such as fishing, seafood processing, shipbuilding, and port construction). In addition to the core force, China recruits experienced People's Liberation Army (PLA) veterans into the maritime militia.
According to scholars Erickson and Kennedy of the US Naval War College, China's maritime militia consists of regular and core maritime militia. While regular militia are a reserve force, core maritime militia receive regular training and are more highly skilled to conduct missions at sea.
China's elevation of the maritime position in its development strategy to become a naval power is a decisive factor in the development of maritime militia. After President Xi Jinping's symbolic visit to Tanmen town in 2013, this force received investment attention and is a critical element in Beijing's overall vision of a maritime power.
|Analysts say China's maritime militia may have hundreds of ships and thousands of members. (Source: Reuters)
International community is concerned
China's deployment of maritime militia in the South China Sea has been increasingly causing concern in the international community. "Little Blue Men" - as Associate Professor Andrew Erickson calls them - have become the core force in China's unnamed campaigns in the South China Sea. Analysts say this force could have hundreds of vessels and thousands of members.
Although China does not acknowledge their existence, experts say maritime militias are integral to Beijing's efforts to assert illegal sovereignty claims in the South China Sea and beyond. This force helps China increase its unlawful presence around reefs and islands without initiating military conflicts.
In 2021, the Chinese Maritime Militia attracted significant attention from international public opinion after more than 200 Chinese ships gathered and anchored at Ba Dau Reef (in the Sinh Ton island cluster in the Truong Sa archipelago of Vietnam) on March 7, 2021. Two analysts of the International Institute for Strategic Studies Singapore (IISS), Samir Puri and Greg Austin, considered this event China's largest deployment in the region.
The Philippines has sent a diplomatic note protesting the "massive and threatening presence" of more than 200 Chinese maritime militia fishing vessels. During the regular press conference of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam on March 25, 2021, the Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam at that time, Le Thi Thu Hang, also emphasized that the activities of Chinese ships within the territory waters of Sinh Ton Dong island, belonging to Vietnam's Truong Sa archipelago, has violated Vietnam's sovereignty and violated international law.
(to be continued)
*The article represents the author's own views.
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