China is using a stealth fleet of fishing boats and ferries to boost its naval power, military experts say
China uses a range of civilian vessels to bolster its naval assets, AP reports.
China’s rapid naval expansion – both in size and activity – has alarmed its rivals.
The growth project is taking place alongside increased military activity in the waters around Taiwan.
China uses a range of civilian vessels to bolster its naval power, AP reports.
The country already had the largest navy in the world by number of ships and launched its first local aircraft carrier in June.
But a fleet of science vessels, fishing boats and ocean ferries also provide a military dimension.
Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the AP that in the hotly contested Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, Chinese authorities are paying trawlers large sums of money, more than they can earn from fishing, anchor for at least 280 days a year to enforce Beijing’s claim to the islands.
He said there were about 300 to 400 ships deployed there at any one time.
“China is capable of using nominally civilian vessels that are clearly state-run, state-paid to eat away at the sovereignty of its neighbors, but then plausibly deny that the state is responsible,” said Poling at AP.
Poling added that the use of civilian ships for military purposes complicates military interactions.
“You don’t want to treat every Chinese fishing boat as an armed fighter, but, in fact, some of them may well be armed fighters,” Poling said.
This growth project is taking place in tandem with increased military activity around Taiwan.
Chinese authorities have ordered civilian fishing trawlers for military purposes for decades. Yet they have rapidly increased their numbers recently with the creation of a “Spratly Backbone Fleet”, according to AP.
China has also launched vessels for ostensibly civilian purposes that could potentially be quickly converted to military use.
All ferries built in China since 2016 must be able to accommodate tanks and military vehicles, according to Mike Dahm, a retired US Navy intelligence officer who has written on the subject for the US Naval War College China Maritime Studies Institute, by PA.
In June, it was reported that China had launched the world’s first unmanned drone carrier that uses artificial intelligence to navigate autonomously in open water.
Beijing has officially described it as a maritime research tool, but some experts have said the ship has the potential to be used as a military vessel.
China’s rapid naval expansion – both in size and activity – alarmed its rivals and was closely watched by the US military, primarily the ships and aircraft of the US Navy’s 7th Fleet based in Japan.
Insider’s Chris Woody Recently reported U.S. Navy ships are operating near Chinese warships in the Western Pacific and gathering intelligence on the Chinese navy, but U.S. officials fear rising tensions could lead to riskier encounters at sea.
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