WASHINGTON – China’s use of non-military maritime vessels to advance its sovereignty claims in the East and South China Seas is disrupting regional security in ways that could very well lead to conflict, the Center for New American Security said.
A CNAS article by Zachary Hosford and Ely Ratner said the United
States needed to develop a more coherent and comprehensive strategy to
stem the tide of Chinese coercion and adventurism.
Rather than thinking about security cooperation primarily in
bilateral contexts, US officials should reach out to Australia, Japan,
Singapore and even allies in Europe to identify specific areas for
multilateral cooperation with less advanced militaries in the Asia
The US, in concert with major powers in the region and the
international community, should not sit idly by if China continues its
revisionist efforts to expand Chinese territory at the expense of
regional stability, the article said.
It said Chinese maritime law enforcement ships have been harassing
legitimate foreign commercial and military vessels, occupying waters
that surround disputed land features and making provocative incursions
into the territorial waters of neighboring states.
These maritime law enforcement vessels have played a leading role as the tip of the spear of Chinese coercion, it said.
Over the last decade, China has substantially modernized the
capabilities of its numerous maritime agencies: the Border Control
Department’s China Maritime Police, the Maritime Safety Administration,
the Fisheries Law Enforcement Command, the General Administration of
Customs and the State Oceanic Administration (particularly its China
Maritime Surveillance, or CMS).
Sometimes referred to as the “five dragons,” these agencies have
different resources, inventories and capabilities, but all are growing
in size and power, CNAS said.
Other states in the region are also building and reinforcing their coast guard capabilities, notably Japan.
Chinese strategists have traditionally seen non-military maritime
vessels as a buffer between navies. Such tack is seen to help avert
crises by reducing the presence of naval forces and the likelihood of
navy-on-navy accidents and incidents.
However, rather than contributing to regional peace and security, the
actions of China’s maritime agencies are increasing the likelihood of
war in the region, CNAS said.
In instances where maritime rights and sovereignty claims are often
derived from de facto administration and presence, Beijing is using
non-military maritime vessels either to control disputed territories or
disrupt the administrative activities of other regional powers creating
on-the-ground disputes where none previously existed, it said.
CNAS said these dynamics were manifest during the row over
Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea, where China
mounted and sustained a substantial maritime law enforcement presence
with Navy ships nearby, even as the Philippines withdrew its own
Since consolidating its occupation of the waters surrounding the reef, China has been in no mood to compromise.
Chinese behavior in the East China Sea with respect to disputed
islands called Senkaku by Tokyo and Diaoyu by Beijing has followed a
similar playbook, CNAS said.
These events are troubling in no small part because China is trying
to coerce US treaty allies. Yet it is even more worrisome that there is
no clear end in sight.
China is eagerly capitalizing on opportunities to advance its
sovereignty claims, with Chinese officials reportedly describing a
“Scarborough model” of coercion and occupation, CNAS added.
The Philippine Star | February 7, 2013 | Article Link