China's civilian fleet a potent force in Asia's disputed seas

marinelink.com
Friday, March 07, 2014

From harassing Filipino fishing boats and monitoring oil exploration off Vietnam to playing cat-and-mouse with the Japanese coastguard, China's expanding fleet of civilian patrol vessels have become the enforcers in disputed Asian waters.

The ships of the recently unified Chinese coastguard are a fixture around the disputed islands and shoals of the South and East China Seas. While the ships don't have the weaponry of military vessels, thus reducing the risk a confrontation could get out of control, they still represent a potent show of sovereignty.

The coastguard is funded by China's State Oceanic Administration, a civilian body, although one U.S. naval officer and security experts said it coordinates its operations with the People's Liberation Army (PLA).

It includes the 200-strong China Marine Surveillance fleet and is seen as another example of how hard it is to get a true picture of China's defence-related spending, the experts added.

China said this week it would increase military spending by 12.2 percent to $131.5 billion in 2014 after a 10.7 percent hike last year.

Much spending likely takes place outside the defence budget, however, and many experts estimate real outlays are close to $200 billion, second only to Washington. The U.S. Defense Department's base budget for fiscal 2014 is $526.8 billion.

Neither the budget for the marine surveillance fleet, which includes decommissioned warships, nor the overall coastguard is known.

Premier Li Keqiang told the opening of China's annual session of parliament on Wednesday that the government would enhance border, coastal and air defences, but he gave no updates on the coastguard's fleet expansions or operations.

"The maritime surveillance force has been getting a number of new vessels for the last several years, reflecting growing resources and growing importance," said Dean Cheng of the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington.

"They are large ... and can help intimidate potential opponents."

The State Oceanic Administration and the Defence Ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

WATER CANNON AND GRAPPLING HOOKS

Tensions have grown across Asia as China has become increasingly assertive in pressing its claims to disputed territory.

In the East China Sea, China and Japan are locked in a bitter row over a group of rocky islands administered by Tokyo.

China also claims about 90 percent of the South China Sea. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims to the sea, which sits above potentially rich oil and gas deposits.

Beijing's civilian fleets now routinely flank both sides of the South China Sea. At times they surround the Scarborough and Second Thomas shoals that China disputes with the Philippines, or patrol contested waters off southern Vietnam, close to oil exploration blocks leased out by Hanoi, according to regional naval officers and analysts.

To be sure, China's navy is active across the disputed areas, but is increasingly focused on operations beyond China's near seas.

China sent its sole aircraft carrier, the 60,000-tonne Liaoning, on its first training mission into the South China Sea late last year. China bought the Soviet-era ship from Ukraine in 1998 and re-fitted it in a Chinese shipyard.

But the coastguard is at the sharp end in defending what China sees as its sovereign territory. Chinese media say its ships tend to be armed with water cannon and grappling hooks.

In one of the most recent incidents, Manila protested against the use of water cannon on Filipino fishermen in disputed South China Sea waters on Jan. 27. China said it had every right to respond to "provocative" acts.

"What we are seeing now is the PLA Navy moving into broader areas of ocean and fine-tuning their operational training, including combat, leaving the civilian fleets to concentrate on the most sensitive areas," one Asian naval officer said.

"It is those fleets that represent the daily assertion of Chinese sovereignty in disputed areas - and we watch them like hawks as a result."

GROWING FLEET

At the last annual parliament session a year ago, China merged four maritime agencies, including the China Marine Surveillance fleet, maritime police and fisheries enforcement vessels, into a unified coastguard under the State Oceanic Administration.

The State Oceanic Administration, itself a relatively new body, is charged with administering China's coastal waters and protecting its maritime rights, along with scientific research.

A recent study by Japan's National Institute of Defence Studies, which conducts research for the Ministry of Defence, noted that little was known about the authority and organisation of the State Oceanic Administration or its relationship with the PLA.

In total, the coastguard has 370 vessels, according to figures released last month by the independent International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) in London.

The state-owned Global Times newspaper has said the China Marine Surveillance fleet alone had more than 200 vessels, nine marine surveillance planes and 8,400 personnel. It is expected to get 36 new patrol vessels by this summer, the official Xinhua news agency has reported.

Many of the marine surveillance ships are old frigates decommissioned from the PLA Navy. In late 2012, Chinese media reported the navy transferred two destroyers to the fleet. Decommissioning usually removes a ship's weapons.

China is also building a 10,000-tonne maritime surveillance vessel, the world's largest, the Beijing Times newspaper said last month. It did not say when the ship would enter service.

Japan's coastguard, the most technologically advanced in the region, has 389 vessels and 25 aircraft, according to IISS. Japanese officials say they are watching the increasing scope and reach of their Chinese counterparts with alarm.

The State Oceanic Administration said last month it would base a 5,000-tonne ship on one of the main islands it controls in the Paracel chain of the South China Sea, which is also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.

Indeed, the civilian vessels were playing the role of "antagonist" in the East and South China Seas, Captain James Fanell, director of intelligence and information operations for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, told a maritime security conference in San Diego last month.

"(They are) harassing China's neighbours while PLA navy ships - their protectors - conduct port calls around the region promising friendship and cooperation," Fanell said in what Pentagon officials later said were his private views.

"We have heard many senior PLA officers say the PLA navy and the Chinese coastguard efforts are not coordinated. This is simply not true. This campaign is being meticulously coordinated from Beijing."

 

By Megha Rajagopalan and Greg Torode

Maritime Reporter August 2015 Digital Edition
FREE Maritime Reporter Subscription
Latest Maritime News    rss feeds

Navigation

Canadian Frigates Get a Radar Upgrade

German navigation system manufacturer Raytheon Anschütz has completed factory acceptance tests and delivery of 12 sets of navigation radars for the Canadian Navy’s Halifax-class frigates.

Automatic Camera for Monitoring Vessel Engine Developed

NYK and the Monohakobi Technology Institute  have jointly developed “Kirari NINJA” (patent pending), a device that can automatically photograph the interior of a vessel engine’s combustion chamber.

‘Chapplaincy’ for Better Seafarers' Welfare Support

Smartphone App created with support from Augustea Group and MarineTraffic will help charity deliver improved service and better measure impact of its work Sailors’ Society,

Maritime Security

HMS Prince of Wales’ Final Carrier Block Delivered

The final sections of the second Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carrier produced by Cammell Laird arrived at Babcock Rosyth Facilities in Fife on Thursday, September 3,

Virginia-Class Submarine Named USS Iowa

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus hosted a ship-naming ceremony today in Ames, Iowa to announce that SSN 797, a Virginia-class attack submarine, will bear the name USS Iowa.

Russian Spy Ship near US Nuke Submarine Bases

Fox News and the Washington Free Beacon reported the presence of a  top Russian spy ship off the coast of Kings Bay, Georgia and is capable of cutting undersea cables.

News

Arctic Cruise Ship Brings High-tech, Green Design

A new vessel has been designed as a luxury expedition cruise vessel for worldwide operation including Arctic and Antarctic regions for itineraries up to 21 days with 300 passengers aboard.

Hapag-Lloyd Adds 6,000 Reefer Containers

In order to profit from the growing reefer markets in South America and Asia, Hapag-Lloyd has ordered 6,000 cutting-edge reefer containers – more than ever before in the company’s history.

AET Names DP Shuttle for Statoil Charter

Petroleum tanker owner and operator AET today named its newest vessel, a 120,000 DWT DP2 shuttle tanker, Eagle Bergen.    Eagle Bergen is the second of two vessels

Coast Guard

Mississippi River Closed Due to Collision, Spill

A unified command team continues its response Friday to an oil spill in the Mississippi River following a collision between two towboats at mile marker 937 in Paducah

Austal Delivers Final Cape Class Patrol Boat

Cape York, the last of eight new Cape Class Patrol Boats for Australian Border Force (formerly Australian Customs and Border Protection) has been delivered by shipbuilder

Ailing Crewman Medevaced from Cable Lay Ship off US

A crew member reportedly suffering from a heart attack was air lifted by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter crew from a cable-laying vessel 80 miles west of Coos Bay, Ore.

Maritime Safety

Ailing Crewman Medevaced from Cable Lay Ship off US

A crew member reportedly suffering from a heart attack was air lifted by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter crew from a cable-laying vessel 80 miles west of Coos Bay, Ore.

3Si Group Launches Offshore Division

3Si Group, whose global portfolio of marine safety products and services covers commercial, leisure and military markets, has announced the formation of 3Si Offshore,

U.S. Coast Guard Responds to Collision Near Paducah

On-scene assessment teams have reported the maximum estimated potential clarified slurry oil released from the tug collision is now 250,000 gallons, Thursday. The

Eye on the Navy

HMS Prince of Wales’ Final Carrier Block Delivered

The final sections of the second Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carrier produced by Cammell Laird arrived at Babcock Rosyth Facilities in Fife on Thursday, September 3,

Virginia-Class Submarine Named USS Iowa

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus hosted a ship-naming ceremony today in Ames, Iowa to announce that SSN 797, a Virginia-class attack submarine, will bear the name USS Iowa.

Russian Spy Ship near US Nuke Submarine Bases

Fox News and the Washington Free Beacon reported the presence of a  top Russian spy ship off the coast of Kings Bay, Georgia and is capable of cutting undersea cables.

Government Update

Timing in Doubt on Hapag-Lloyd IPO

German container shipping group Hapag-Lloyd has taken further steps in preparation of a stock market listing and has mandated more banks for the move, but it remains

Australia's New Shipping Laws Threaten Loss of Jobs

The planned changes to Australia’s shipping laws would cause a 93% loss of Australian seafaring jobs a new report says.   More than nine in 10 domestic seafarers

Proposed Shipping Legislation to Jeopardise$100-million Investment in Australia

Australian-owned Bass Strait shipping operator SeaRoad Holdings has warned the Federal Government that its proposed Shipping Legislation Amendment Bill could jeopardise

 
 
Maritime Security Maritime Standards Naval Architecture Pipelines Port Authority Salvage Ship Electronics Ship Repair Shipbuilding / Vessel Construction Winch
rss | archive | history | articles | privacy | contributors | top maritime news | about us | copyright | maritime magazines
maritime security news | shipbuilding news | maritime industry | shipping news | maritime reporting | workboats news | ship design | maritime business

Time taken: 0.7828 sec (1 req/sec)