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Vietnam's Maritime / Fishing ‘Militia’



--- Quote ---Vietnam's Fishing ‘Militia’ to Defend Maritime Claims Against China
April 06, 2018 9:35 AM

Taipei — Vietnam is quietly fostering a state-supported fishing boat militia to hold off China at sea even as the two sides talk formally about easing their sovereignty dispute, according to experts who follow the issue.

The Southeast Asian country is encouraging its commercial fishing fleet to use stronger boats and take military-trained personnel to sea in case of a clash with China, analysts who follow the country say. China has its own fishing militia, in the same body of water.

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How the militia works

The Vietnamese militia has not gone to battle with China, and if it did it would risk facing the world's third largest military.

But Vietnamese military units are arming fishing boats, said Carl Thayer, Southeast Asia-specialized emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

That procedure may be similar to the deployment of former soldiers to help keep public order as needed on land in Vietnam, he said. Vietnam requires conscription, he added, so fishermen would already have basic military skills.

“Putting them at sea would just be getting people the right age and giving them that training,” he said. “All they did is move what they do on land, how to defend factories et cetera, and extend that to sea, so I’d imagine it’s the same thing.”

Thirteen fishing militia platoons are helping more than 3,000 fishermen work near the South China Sea's Paracel Islands, according to a 2017 study by scholars with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. China controls the Paracels, but Vietnam claims the chain as its own.

The maritime militia got a boost in 2009 when the Vietnamese National Assembly passed a law recommending that self-defense militia escort Vietnamese fishing fleets.

The more than 10,000 fishermen and roughly 2,000 fishing boats in Khanh Hoa province of southern Vietnam have received infrared night vision binoculars and firearms, the study from Singapore says.

Vietnam issued a protocol in 2014 to aid fishermen who build “modern large capacity” ships, often steel ones, to expand their reach, the study adds. It says Vietnamese banks had lent $176 million to fishermen for upgrades of some 400 ships.
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--- Quote ---Vietnam’s response to China’s militarised fishing fleet
4 August 2018

China has long been infamous for incorporating maritime militias into its fishing industry to assert its sovereignty claims. With the world’s largest fishing fleet, comprising 370,000 non-powered and 762,000 motor-powered vessels, China has the capacity and resources to push more of its fishermen to the front line of maritime disputes. Recent years have witnessed an increasing number of clashes between Chinese fishermen and the coast guards of other countries in the region. As the most serious challenger of China’s hegemonic ambition in the South China Sea, Vietnam is combining different tactics to respond.

Vietnam has reinforced its own fishing fleet to sail out to the disputed waters. In 2009, Vietnam’s National Assembly passed the Law on Militia and Self-Defense Forces that paved the way for the ‘fishing militia’ to officially operate. A year later, then-prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung ratified Plan 1902 to pilot the operation of the maritime self-defence forces. An estimated 8000 vessels and 1.22 per cent of Vietnam’s maritime labour are members of the fishing militia.

Then, in the 2014 HD-981 incident, a deep-water Chinese oil rig moved into Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone and dozens of Vietnamese wooden boats surrounded the area to assist the coast guard in the standoff. Although there was no official call from the government, a letter of encouragement by then-president Truong Tan Sang and a call from the state-sponsored Vietnam Fisheries Society for fishermen to sail to the disputed waters implied that Hanoi implicitly incorporated civil vessels into sovereignty-protection activities.

Steel-hulled Chinese fishing boats also took part in the standoff, which led to perhaps the first time that two covert fishing militias collided with each other. This did not end well for the Vietnamese: a wooden boat was sunk and several others were badly damaged.

Following the HD-981 incident, Vietnamese policymakers were willing to commit more resources to strengthen their largely outdated fishing fleet. Two months after the standoff Hanoi issued Decree 67,  which aimed to support fishermen to build bigger and more modern steel-hulled boats that are able to resist bad weather and threats from Chinese vessels and venture further into contested areas.

The government assigned a preferential loan of around US$400 million in just three years to support building new fishing boats and renovating old ones. Around 800 ships have been built, half of which are steel-hulled. An additional 2000 ships are qualified for the government’s credit program and will receive funding soon.
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--- Quote ---What’s Next for Vietnam’s Maritime Militia? | The Diplomat - January 28, 2020
Last week, reports surfaced that Vietnam was looking to build up so-called maritime militias across several provinces in the country. The development spotlighted one aspect of Vietnam’s continued inroads with respect to its maritime capabilities amid the range of challenges that Hanoi faces.

As I have observed before, Vietnam possesses one of the most robust defense capabilities in the Asia-Pacific region, and this extends into the maritime realm as well. Beyond its naval capabilities, Vietnam has also invested in other non-military capabilities as well, such as its coast guard as well as fishing fleet, in order to manage a range of challenges in the maritime domain, including gray zone operations from China that challenge Hanoi’s claims in the South China Sea.

One of the aspects of this is the development of so-called maritime militias. Though the term was originally popularized to characterize China’s capabilities in this regard, it has been used to describe Vietnam’s efforts as well even though much less is known relatively speaking. The Vietnam maritime militia had previously operated as an ostensibly paramilitary force with a self-defense function under a 2009 Law on Militia and Self Defense Force which specifies that this force constitutes part of Vietnam’s armed forces, and Vietnam’s capabilities in this respect had been on display in incidents such as the oil rig crisis in 2014.

The focus on the development of Vietnamese maritime capabilities has continued over the past few years as well. Vietnam has considered or passed a series of resolutions and laws that further clarify the role of various forces including its coast guard, and has also been managing some of the maritime challenges with its neighbors such as illegal fishing. More broadly, the country has also framed the development of its maritime capabilities in terms of broader goals such as developing its economy and protecting its sovereignty, as evidenced in the release of the country’s first defense white paper in a decade in November.

Last week, this aspect of Vietnam’s maritime capabilities was in the spotlight again with a report about ongoing efforts to further build up its maritime militia. A Vietnamese media report cited an official as saying that Vietnam would look to build maritime militias in several provinces across the country.
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