China somehow doesn’t publish the names of its maritime militia vessels. This would undermine the militia’s fundamental advantages of secrecy and deniability. It is also uncommon for Chinese publications to identify particular vessels’ militia connections. Analysts are using clues to determine if a ship is probable to be China’s maritime militia vessel or not.

Since 2014, China has constructed dozens of massive Spratly fishing boats, dubbed the “Spratly backbone fleet.” As we have stated in War on the Rocks, the majority, if not all, of these boats are associated with the marine militia. This idea may aid in overcoming the persistent problem of distinguishing rogue Chinese fishermen from undercover personnel of China’s armed services.

The Chinese government, both national and local, set aside huge sums of money to compensate fishing boat operators who wanted to build new Spratly vessels. Many Chinese fishing boat operators accepted this offer. The new ships then became a part of the “Spratly backbone fleet.”

Beijing most certainly wanted some say over how the new vehicles were employed. Like those at Scarborough Shoal in 2012, their activities might permit further territory gains if used correctly. In contrast, if they are abused, they may harm China’s credibility. China already had a mechanism in place to regulate the actions of its fishing vessels in disputed areas when the operation began.

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