Territorial Disputes & China's Fisher Militia

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,,, at 11/23/2014 01:30:00 AM
And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” [Matthew 4:19]
Since it's the weekend, let's try something different. By now everyone knows China has maritime disputes with nearly all its neighbors in East and Southeast Asia. Like in any other sort of social relation, you are guaranteed to offend others if you mark off vast swathes of territory as your own under dubious grounds. Recalling the biblical passage above, China is seemingly attempting to redefine it militarily. Aware of the poor "optics" in violating agreements not to deploy force in regional waters to assert one's territorial claims, the Chinese have come up with another gambit. That's right--"fishers" have been baiting people instead of fish in the service of PRC interests in asserting military supremacy.

Make that paramilitary supremacy. Yes, China has a vast and growing navy, but it chooses not to use it as much as possible if the same objectives can be achieved by sending so-called "fishing vessels" to harass other disputants. Let's begin with China using "fishing vessels" as extensions of the national interest in the East China Sea against Japan:
Beijing had been trying, to some extent, to prevent Chinese fishing vessels from coming close to the Senkakus. But some Japanese policymakers believe it started easing such efforts after the Japanese government purchased the islands from a private landowner in September 2012. China likely recognizes that deploying more patrol boats to the area would only provoke Japan and its ally, the U.S., and is thus seeking to erode Japan's effective control over the islands by letting fishing boats operate near them.

China has been making only lukewarm efforts to keep its fishing boats from approaching the Senkakus. Since last year through September, there have been only around 10 cases in which a Chinese surveillance vessel stopped and inspected a Chinese fishing boat, according to a Japanese government official.
Real sneaky, eh? The same sort of modus operandi is at work off the coast of Vietnam (Paracels) as these boats act as proxy enforcers for the PRC...
China’s use of swarming tactics with fishing vessels to project and protect Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea appears unstoppable, experts say. The latest example in May was the placement of a Chinese oil rig within Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone, which was pro­tected by more than 70 maritime security and fishing vessels.

“Fishing vessels are wonderful tools for autocratic governments where business and industry are under their control,” said Sam Tangredi, author of the book, “Anti-Access Warfare.” Sending them in swarms to circle a disputed area of contention or create a barrier to prevent access by other navy or coast guard vessels does not create negative media images like harassment by warships, he said. “It may be made to appear like a spontaneous peaceful protest caused by popular nationalist fervor… almost like ‘nonviolent resistance,’ as if Gandhi was a fisherman.”
The trick is to masquerade security interests as "civilian" undertakings since they involve "fishing vessels." Ditto for the western seaboard of the Philippines where hit-and-run poaching is the specific technique of aggravation. That is, you can loot all sorts of endangered species since they're endangered species in "your" waters anyway:
Three Chinese fishing vessels engaged in poaching and the illegal trade of endangered sea turtles off southern Palawan have escaped anew from maritime patrol units. Authorities earlier monitored Chinese fishing boats near Hasa-Hasa Shoal, some 60 nautical miles from mainland Palawan but which is also being claimed by China.

“The Chinese vessels were able to escape before our joint team aboard three boats could nail them down,” the source said. The source was referring to a joint operation launched on Saturday that included three vessels from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Philippine National Police-Maritime Group Special Boat Unit (SBU) to intercept the Chinese ships poaching in the area.
There's something fishy in all this if you ask me since these "fishing vessels" would not so brazenly conduct such activities which risk international offense unless they are deliberately being condoned by the PRC. Make no mistake: they are likely deployed to harass and intimidate. The bad publicity generated by sending warships instead is thus spared. Insofar as the results are the same, the Chinese will view these activities as successes in achieving national objectives.