Vietnam’s Fishing ‘Militia’ to Defend Maritime Claims Against China

Ralph Jennings / April 6, 2018

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.

“I think it’s a good policy to avoid future conflicts where militia fishermen are out in the sea and if there are some tensions,” said Trung Nguyen, dean of international relations at Ho Chi Minh University of Social Sciences and Humanities.

Development of the Vietnamese militia since at least 2009 comes despite regular talks between the two governments, with the latest just this week.

The Vietnamese Communist Party general secretary met the visiting Chinese foreign minister Monday to suggest “joint safeguarding (of) maritime peace and stability,” China’s Xinhua News Agency said.

Vietnam may be “flexing muscle” now in case talks fail to produce results, said Eduardo Araral, associate professor in the National University of Singapore’s school of public policy.

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. Read more…

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