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Maritime Militia in the South China Sea

China’s Maritime Militia

Authors: Andrew S. Erickson and Conor M. Kennedy, CNA Corporation, 7 March 2016.

An important component of China’s local armed forces is the militia—an armed mass organization of mobilizable personnel who retain their normal economic responsibilities in daily civilian life. A reserve force of immense scale, the militia is organized at the grassroots level of society: its units are formed by towns, villages, urban sub-districts, and enterprises. It supports China’s armed forces in a variety of functions, and is seeing expanded mission roles as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) continues to modernize. Militia units may vary widely from one location to another, as the composition of each one is based on local conditions (yindi zhiyi). A good example is the establishment of emergency repair units in areas with a strong shipbuilding industry. While the Maritime Militia is not a new addition to China’s militia system, it is receiving greater emphasis since China now aspires to become a great maritime power and because maritime disputes in China’s near seas are a growing concern.

No official definition of the Maritime Militia exists in the many sources the authors examined. However, in late 2012 the Zhoushan garrison commander, Zeng Pengxiang, and the garrison’s Mobilization Office described it concisely: “The Maritime Militia is an irreplaceable mass armed organization not released from production and a component of China’s sea defense armed forces [that enjoys] low sensitivity and great leeway in maritime rights protection actions.” Of course, this description does not cover all aspects of the Maritime Militia. Members of the Maritime Militia are all primary militia (jigan minbing), as opposed to those in the less active ordinary militia (putong minbing). The former receive more frequent training, and they have more advanced skills for carrying out missions at sea.


View of Danzhou Harbor from Baimajing, With Fishing Fleet, Maritime Law Enforcement, and Navy Ships. Photo credit: CIMSEC.

Logically, the Maritime Militia is found in port areas with large fishing, shipbuilding, or shipping industries where experienced mariners or craftsmen provide a ready pool of recruits. Citizens can join land-based primary militia organizations when they are between the ages of 18 and 35 (or 45 for those who have special skills). The Maritime Militia also has relaxed policies for age requirements, with even more emphasis on their specialized skills in some localities (e.g., Yancheng City of Jiangsu Province extended the maximum age for its maritime militiamen to 55).

The only estimate of the size of the Maritime Militia obtained during the course of this research was from a source published in 1978, which put the number of personnel at 750,000 on approximately 140,000 craft. In its 2010 Defense White Paper, China stated that it had 8 million primary militia members nationwide. The Maritime Militia is a smaller unique subset since it performs many of its missions at sea. Since an accurate number is not available this chapter takes more of a grassroots approach and attempts to determine the average size of a unit at the local level. It is important to note that the Maritime Militia is distinct from both China’s coastal militia (shore based) and its naval reserve, although some coastal militia units have been transformed into Maritime Militia units.

Although this paper focuses on the current organization and employment of Chinese Maritime Militia organizations, it first puts this force into context by presenting a brief history of the Maritime Militia and a discussion of the changing role of militia in the Chinese armed forces as the PLA continues its transformation into a force that will win high-tech local wars under informatized conditions. Next, it examines the current role of the Maritime Militia in China’s goal of becoming a great maritime power, which will include both old and new mission areas. Because of the Maritime Militia’s localized roots, a section of this paper is devoted to surveying Maritime Militia activities in various provinces along China’s coast. This will give the reader a sense of this force’s scale and diversity. The remaining sections will address specific Maritime Militia modes of training, organization, and command and control, and will offer possible scenarios and implications.

Read the full report at https://www.scribd.com/doc/305313878/Chinas-Maritime-Militia [PDF]


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