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China’s use of non-military vessels disrupting regional security

 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 Pacific.

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 government vessels.

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.
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The Philippine Star | | Article Link

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