Vietnam is building its militia and maritime defense in the South China Sea to challenge China’s efforts to dominate disputed waterways, as revealed in a Chinese military magazine.
“Vietnam’s maritime militias and their activities in waters near Hainan Island, Paracels and Spratlys threaten the enforcement of maritime laws and China’s national defense security,” China’s Naval and Merchant Ships magazine cited by Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post and India’s ANI News cited in an article released last week.
The magazine said that this issue should be “seriously considered and handled promptly.”
Beijing claims sovereignty over most of the South China Sea with the 9-dash “cow’s tongue” line which overlaps with Hanoi’s territorial sea claims. Like China, Vietnam also has a tradition of using maritime militias to help defend its sovereignty claims.
While the European Union estimates that about 8,000 fishing boats and 46,000 fishermen are part of Vietnam’s maritime militia, the Chinese military magazine cited by SCMP and ANI News gave the number could be more than 70,000. Accordingly, when not fishing, these trained marine militiamen have been engaged in a variety of missions, sometimes in cooperation with the Vietnamese navy.
According to the Chinese military magazine, the duties of the Vietnamese maritime militia include spying on Chinese military facilities and ships, and sometimes deliberately clashing with Chinese coast guard ships to attracts the attention of the Western media. According to SCMP and ANI, the magazine alleged that this was intended to bring the concepts of “humanitarian incident” and “Chinese coercion” into the international public’s mind.
Vietnam has not yet made any public official response to the Chinese military magazine’s article.
As noted by researcher Nguyen The Phuong on the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, at the CSIS Institute for International Strategic Studies based in Washington, USA, last year, Vietnam’s maritime militia “not a predictable mysterious force” and shares common characteristics with China’s maritime militia. According to this researcher, Vietnam’s strategic force was divided into two types of organizations in 2010, including militia, established based on the administrative area, and self-defense of the sea, established by state-owned businesses.
Both Hanoi and Beijing are believed to have mobilized fishing boats for their maritime claims operations in the South China Sea.
Last month, the Philippines accused China of sending more than 200 fishing boats and militia ships to the disputed Whitsun Reef area between the two countries.
Vietnam’s marine militia was mobilized to besiege China’s Hai Duong 981 rig in 2014, according to researcher Collin Koh of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore to SCMP. In 2019, Vietnamese and Chinese maritime militias are said to have jointly assisted their country’s coast guard during the clash at Vanguard Bank.
The Chinese military magazine argued that Beijing should strengthen the law on foreign ships, pressure the Vietnamese government to take restraint measures through diplomatic channels, and increase the possibility of coast guard patrols to prevent militia.