China has long denied that it uses maritime militia forces to assert its maritime and territorial claims in the South China Sea, often describing the Chinese vessels clustered around disputed reefs and islets as just fishing boats.
But the paper trail left by the Chinese bureaucracy tells a different story.
Radio Free Asia analyzed bidding documents, corporate records, and other official data in an effort to shed new light on the maritime militia belonging to Sansha City, a municipality under Hainan province that administers China’s claims in the South China Sea from its headquarters on Woody Island in the Paracels.
RFA found that the state-owned fishing company in charge of Sansha City’s maritime militia fleet has managed projects involving classified national security information, a strong indicator that the company’s ships are engaged in more than just fishing.
In addition to tracking the fleet owned by this company, RFA also uncovered evidence that one of its ships was used to test an experimental command and communications system built with foreign technology, which likely transformed the vessel into a mobile communications and surveillance platform capable of transmitting intelligence back to the authorities on land.