Inside China: Armed fishermen

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A leading Chinese fishing-industry official is urging the Chinese government to provide arms and military training for 100,000 Chinese fishermen to roam the South China Sea and defeat Vietnam and other countries in the region that are challenging China’s sweeping claims of sovereignty in those waters.

He Jianbin, chief of the state-run Baosha Fishing Corp., based in Hainan province, urged the Chinese government to make fishermen into Chinese militiamen.

“If we put 5,000 Chinese fishing ships in the South China Sea, there will be 100,000 fishermen,” Mr. He stated in a June 28 commentary in the state-controlled Communist Party newspaper the Global Times.

“And if we make all of them militiamen, give them weapons, we will have a military force stronger than all the combined forces of all the countries in the South China Sea,” he said.

The fisheries official confidently disclosed that at present, China would have no problem deploying that many fishing ships. “In Hainan province alone, we now have over 23,000 fishing ships, with over 225,000 experienced and mature captains,” Mr. He said.

“Every year, between May and August, when fishing activities are in recess, we should train these fishermen/militiamen to gain skills in fishing, production and military operations, making them a reserve force on the sea, and using them to solve our South [China] Sea problems,” he continued.

China’s government has been using fishing vessels in recent weeks to ratchet up tensions with almost all its maritime neighbors, including Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines. In several high-profile skirmishes, most noticeably with the Japanese and Philippine maritime vessels, Chinese fishing vessels have played a central role, followed by vessels belonging to the government’s China Maritime Surveillance bureau [Haijian] and Bureau of Fishery [Yuzheng].

The People’s Liberation Army’s Navy is poised in the region but so far has not been directly involved in initial confrontations with several foreign vessels in an apparent effort to avoid direct challenges from the navies of other countries, including Japan, South Korea and possibly the United States.

China, in particular, regards the U.S. Navy as its main obstacle and the most formidable enemy in its South China Sea gambit. By making fishermen a maritime militia force, Mr. He argues, “we can make the PLA Navy our rear echelon for now but not the forward echelon in the South China Sea. This will alleviate our nation’s burden, because if we put the PLA Navy at the front line now, we fall right into the trap set up by the U.S. government.”

TANKS FOR OIL

China is set to provide $500 million worth of amphibious assault tanks and vehicles to Hugo Chavez’s military in exchange for Venezuela’s oil exports, according to remarks by the Venezuelan strongman at a promotion ceremony for several generals near Caracas on July 3.

China has eyed Venezuela’s oil exports for years and is eager to cultivate good relations with the leftist regime of Mr. Chavez, who has shown an increasingly strong interest in Chinese-made weapons to arm his military.

China has been highly receptive of Mr. Chavez’s efforts to beef up his control over the military. Chinese navy vessels recently visited the country. Additionally, Chinese paratrooper and sniper teams have conducted joint exercises with Mr. Chavez’s special operations forces in the South American jungle earlier this year.

In 2008, Mr. Chavez visited Beijing and signed a deal with the PLA to buy 24 Chinese-made K-8 jet trainers. The planes were delivered to Venezuela in 2009.

The main item for the current $500 million deal will be China’s ZTD-05 amphibious armored assault vehicles and a few older Type 63A amphibious tanks.

ZTD-05 is China’s knockoff version of Russia’s BMP-3 armored infantry fighting vehicle. It functions much like a regular amphibious tank with a 106 mm rifled gun that can fire armor-piercing high-explosive anti-tank shells. It has an advanced stabilizing mechanism enabling it to fire accurately while operating in choppy waters.

The ZDT-05 is viewed as one of the fastest and most deadly amphibious assault vehicles in the world.

Miles Yu’s column appears Thursdays. He can be reached at mmilesyu@gmail.com.

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