China dismisses accusations of maritime militia disrupting Indian and Asean naval drills

Photo Courtesy via Bangkok Post

China’s foreign ministry has dismissed allegations that vessels belonging to its maritime militia deliberately encroached upon an area of the South China Sea where Indian and ASEAN navies were conducting exercises. However, an independent expert in Vietnam argues that Beijing is using the militia to intimidate and disrupt the naval drills.

In a statement to Reuters, China’s foreign ministry said that Chinese fishing and scientific research vessels conduct regular operations in maritime areas under China’s jurisdiction. They urged the international community not to make unfounded accusations or create unwarranted trouble. Both the Indian and Vietnamese governments have refrained from comment.

The vessels’ proximity to the two-day sea phase of the ASEAN-India Maritime Exercise (AIME 2023), which commenced on Sunday, raised concerns among Indian authorities. Naval ships and aircraft from India, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Brunei participated in the exercise, held within the Vietnamese Exclusive Economic Zone.

According to anonymous Indian sources, the militia boats and naval vessels crossed paths without confrontation. These sources claim that Indian authorities were monitoring the movements of at least five militia boats, with a Chinese research vessel also following them toward the same area.

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Ray Powell, leader of Project Myoushu on the South China Sea at Stanford University in California, identified the boats as belonging to the Qiong Sansha Yu militia fleet in the region. This militia comprises commercial fishing boats that work in coordination with Chinese authorities to fulfill political objectives in the South China Sea. Yet, the Chinese government has previously denied the existence of such a militia.

Van Pham, manager of The South China Sea Chronicle Initiative (SCSCI), an independent non-profit that monitors vessel-tracking data, commented that this is not the first time Chinese “so-called fishing vessels” have been in close proximity to, and seemingly intimidated, warships from other nations. As a result of these encounters, Pham believes that naval exercises might have been interrupted, with ships being forced to change their direction.

Pham also highlighted that the Chinese research vessel Xiang Yang Hong 10 came within ten miles of a participating Vietnamese warship. The drill marks the first ASEAN-India Maritime Exercise (AIME-2023), co-hosted by the Indian and Singaporean navies.

Several of China’s littoral neighbors have accused the country of using its official and militia vessels to harass and intimidate their fishing and military boats in the South China Sea. China has long maintained sovereignty over the entire South China Sea and has demonstrated sensitivity to the presence of other militaries in the region.

Moreover, India and China’s relations have soured after a 2020 clash in the Himalayas between their armies, resulting in the deaths of 24 soldiers.

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With a Bachelor's Degree in English, Jenn has plenty of experience writing and editing on different topics. After spending many years teaching English in Thailand, Jenn has come to love writing about Thai culture and the experience of being an ex-pat in Thailand. During long holidays, she travels to North of Thailand just to have Khao Soi!

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