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Chinese Maritime Militia Unit Releases Video Celebrating Military Role

PLA sansha
Image courtesy of the Political Department of the PLA Hainan Province Sansha Garrison

Published May 20, 2021 3:43 PM by The Maritime Executive

The locally-organized units of China's paramilitary maritime militia usually try to keep a low profile, maintaining the appearance of everyday Chinese fishing companies. When tensions with neighboring states arise and the militia deploys, Beijing often denies its existence and describes militia members as innocent fishermen. However, a unit in Sansha City recently took a different tack, publishing a patriotic music video describing its non-commercial duties. 

The video - an official production of the Political Department of the PLA Hainan Province Sansha Garrison - was first reported by Radio Free Asia. "Song of the Sansha Maritime Militia" shows the unit's fishermen in fatigues, training with rifles, conducting mock amphibious assault operations, singing and marching in unison and - in one sequence - ramming what appears to be an artisanal fishing vessel. The video was reproduced on YouTube by RFA, but is available in its original form (with soundtrack) here

In a translation provided by Prof. Andrew Erickson of the U.S. Naval War College, the lyrics of the accompanying song translate in part as:

The Maritime Militia’s fighting spirit is soaring . . . The Maritime Militia is the guardian of the ocean frontier / Serve the Country and be loyal to the Party / In peacetime, be the vanguard of rights protection / In times of emergency, join the battle and win the war

In an accompanying report, RFA's Zachary Haver delved into the public records of Hainan's civilian and military bureaucracy to find clues to the organization and nature of the Sansha City maritime militia. The municipality governs all of China's sweeping South China Sea maritime claims, and it is headquartered on disputed Woody Island in the Paracels. Its units appear to be based at three ports on Hainan, where they are close to the high-profile maritime militia operations in the Spratly Islands. 

Documents obtained by RFA show that an ostensibly non-military organization, Sansha City Fisheries Development, owns the Sansha Maritime Militia's fleet of 60-meter newbuilds. These well-kept boats share a common prefix, Qiongsanshayu, followed by a hull number. AIS activity shows the vessels have deployed regularly to hotspots in the South China Sea, like Philippine-claimed Scarborough Shoal.

Further, Sansha militia members have been identified among the inhabitants of small-scale fishing enterprises on Chinese-occupied islands in the Paracels, and Chinese state media has reported these outposts as sources of intelligence and surveillance data.