China Holds Military Drill with "Local Fishermen"
China's navy said Tuesday that recent military drills in the Gulf of Tonkin included the participation of a dozen coast guard ships and a dozen civilian fishing vessels.
“A joint operations system involving the navy, coastguard, and local fishermen has been fine-tuned in recent years through joint drills,” a PLA Navy media outlet said (as translated by SCMP).
The drills included evolutions for escort operations and for defending drilling rigs.
Elements of China's fishing fleet receive fuel subsidies and military training from the government, and are widely viewed as a paramilitary force. Earlier in the month, a swarm of 200-300 Chinese fishing boats accompanied by Chinese Coast Guard patrol ships encroached on Japanese-claimed waters near the Senkaku Islands (called the Daioyu Islands by China).
The Japan Coast Guard said that on at least 28 occasions, boats from the assembled Chinese fleet crossed over the line into Japanese sovereign waters.
China is hosting this year's G20 economic summit in Hangzhou September 4-5, and it has gone to great lengths to persuade attendees not to raise the sensitive question of disputed claims in the South China Sea. Analysts view the latest drill in the Gulf of Tonkin as a message intended to assert Chinese sovereignty in the region, which it claims almost in its entirety. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague ruled earlier this year that China's sweeping maritime claims in the region are not valid – a decision that the Chinese government has refused to recognize.