Meet the Chinese Maritime Militia Waging a ‘People’s War at Sea’


When the Philippines announced last week that it was restarting construction in disputed areas of the South China Sea in response to China’s own construction binge, it entered a contest it has virtually no hope of winning.

Satellite images released in February reveal that China has undertaken an unprecedented series of construction and land reclamation projects designed to help it control much of the South China Sea, including a 75,000-square yard artificial island with a cement plant and a helipad just over 200 miles from the Philippines.

China’s territorial ambitions in the East and South China seas are by now well-documented. Much less understood is one of the key factors in the country’s ability to realize those ambitions: an increasingly well-funded and capable maritime militia.

Along with Vietnam, China is one of very few countries to have a maritime militia. Such forces are typically comprised of civilian fishing vessels and fill a variety of roles, from using emergency response units to rescue stranded vessels to more assertive operations including conducting island landings to declare sovereignty. Mariners retaining civilian jobs in large companies or fishing collectives are recruited into military organizations and undergo military training, political education, and mobilization in defense of China’s maritime interests.


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