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  • Frank Tseng

Matsu Cable Cut an Act of PLA Militia?

Updated: Oct 13, 2023

  • Two main underseas cables severed between Matzu Island and Taiwan.

  • Both done by Chinese fishing boats, accidental or intentional?

  • Chinese fishing boats have worked under Chinese government before.

  • China's maritime militia is composed of civilian fishing vessels that are integrated into the country's national defense strategy.

  • The militia is believed to be composed of approximately 300,000 personnel who operate on about 3,000 vessels.

Accident or Intentional Act of Sabotage? Chinese fishing vessels are typically equipped with communications and surveillance equipment and are trained to carry out a variety of missions, including intelligence gathering and harassment of foreign vessels. PLA Militia operates in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, where China has overlapping territorial and maritime claims with neighboring countries. Fishing vessels often operate in coordination with the Chinese Coast Guard and Navy to assert China's claims in the disputed waters.

In the past, fishing vessels have been involved in a number of incidents with foreign vessels, including collisions and ramming, which have raised concerns about the potential for miscalculation and escalation in the region. Militia vessels have been accused of engaging in illegal fishing practices, including overfishing and using banned fishing methods, which have led to disputes with other countries in the region. Fishing vessels are owned and operated by private companies, but they receive support and subsidies from the Chinese government.

The use of fishing vessels as militia allows China to maintain a low-cost and deniable presence in the disputed waters, while also providing economic benefits to coastal communities. United States and other countries in the region have expressed concern about the use of fishing vessels as militia and have called on China to be more transparent about its maritime activities. PLA militia has been involved in a number of high-profile incidents, including the 2012 Scarborough Shoal standoff with the Philippines and the 2016 seizure of the US Navy drone in the South China Sea.

  1. Scarborough Shoal: The 2012 standoff involved a dispute between China and the Philippines over a small, uninhabited island in the South China Sea. After the Philippines detained Chinese fishermen in the area, China sent maritime patrol vessels, including some operated by the maritime militia, to the area to assert its claims. The standoff lasted for several weeks and ended with both sides withdrawing their vessels, but China has since maintained a continuous presence in the area.

  2. 2016 seizure of a US Navy drone: It occurred when a Chinese naval vessel captured an underwater drone that was being operated by the US Navy in international waters in the South China Sea. The drone was eventually returned to the US after diplomatic negotiations, but the incident raised tensions between the two countries and drew attention to China's increasingly assertive behavior in the region. Some reports suggest that the maritime militia was involved in the incident, although this has not been confirmed by the Chinese government.

Both incidents are examples of how the maritime militia can be used to assert China's claims in disputed areas while also maintaining plausible deniability. By operating alongside Chinese naval and coast guard vessels, the militia can provide a buffer between military and civilian activities, allowing China to escalate or de-escalate tensions as needed.

The incidents also highlight the risks of miscalculation and escalation in the region, as well as the potential for conflicts involving non-military assets. As the maritime militia continues to play a larger role in China's maritime strategy, it is likely to become an increasingly important factor in regional security dynamics.

Use of the maritime militia in these incidents has drawn international criticism, with the US and its allies accusing China of violating international norms and behaving in an aggressive and destabilizing manner. However, China maintains that its activities in the region are lawful and justified by its historical and legal claims to the disputed areas.


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