Chinese state-owned fishing company is cover for spy activities, report claims

Paracel Islands

A CHINESE STATE-OWNED fisheries enterprise is in reality a front for military-related intelligence activities in the South China Sea, according to a new investigative report. The report was produced by Radio Free Asia (RFA), which is operated by the United States Agency for Global Media —an arm of the United States government. Entitled “Unmasking China’s Maritime Militia”, the report focuses on the Sansha City Fisheries Development Co., which is based on the island of Hainan, China’s southernmost province.

Established in February of 2015, Sansha City Fisheries Development Co. is a municipal state-owned enterprise that carries out industrial-scale fishing operations in the South China Sea. However, having analyzed official Chinese government data, including corporate records and third-party bidding contracts, RFA claims that “the company’s ships are engaged in more than just fishing”. In reality, the fishing company operates as an undercover arm of a shadowy force known as the Sansha City maritime militia, according to RFA.

The Sansha City maritime militia is believed to be headquartered at Woody Island (also known as Yongxing Island), the largest of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. It was allegedly established in 2013, with the goal of protecting China’s maritime claims in a region where Beijing is competing for influence against Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam, among other regional actors. Today the maritime militia is said to consist of over 100 vessels and nearly 2,000 militiamen and women.

According to RFA, Sansha City Fisheries Development is known to prioritize hiring veterans of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. Moreover, a number of service contracts signed between the state-owned fishing company and third party providers appear to include “state secrets protection” clauses, which typically refer to classified programs for the Chinese military or intelligence services. In recent years, at least two of the company’s ships were used to test classified information systems and command and communications systems, which “transformed [them into] mobile communications and surveillance platform[s] capable of transmitting intelligence back to the authorities on land”, according to RFA.

It should be noted that the Chinese government disputes these allegations. The RFA report quotes part of a statement by the Chinese embassy in the Philippines, which claims that “[t]here is no Chinese Maritime Militia as alleged”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 May 2021 | Permalink

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