How China modernized its fishing fleet in the South China Sea

Ryan D. Martinson in a piece titled Xi likes big boats (coming soon to a reef near you) on War on the Rocks:

Photos the Philippine government released in March show nests of Chinese fishing vessels moored in the lagoon of the disputed reef. Aside from the sheer number of craft present, one is struck by the size of individual vessels. Satellite images reveal many boats 60 meters (almost 200 feet) in length — dwarfing the Philippine Coast Guard vessel (BRP Cabra) sent to monitor their activities.

Chinese fishers did not buy these boats out of mere love for Xi. Even if that were their motive, they could not afford these expensive craft without some help. Rather, the more than 200 fishing vessels seen congregating at Whitsun Reef are largely a product of policies that China has designed to prioritize Spratly fishing vessels in a national program to modernize the country’s fishing industry. This program has provided China’s maritime militia with potent new tools with which to exert influence and control in disputed maritime space — posing significant new challenges for Southeast Asian states.

Fascinating account of how China under Xi’s leadership around 2012 initiated a massive upgrade of its fishing fleet in the South China Sea. Small wooden boats have been replaced by massive steel-hulled ships that dwarf the coastguard vessels of neighboring states.

Obviously, these “fishing” ships are organized in China’s Maritime Militia, which arguably is a hybrid force designed to challenge the rule of international law in the South China Sea. It is worrisome that both China and Russia seem to have their crosshairs fixed on UNCLOS.

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