News related to China and the communist regime that rules its destiny is often widely replicated because it involves the fate of more than 1.4 billion people and is often perceived as threatening to the rest of the world.
Such is the case of a recent investigation by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), which pointed out the shady and even suspicious negotiations several global shipping giants have with shipyards linked to the Chinese regime. In addition, they ignore their numerous human rights violations and other abuses against the sovereignty of several countries.
CSIS draws attention to the recent boom in shipping companies, driving them to substantially increase their already large fleets of container ships and oil tankers.
And it is precisely the large shipyards linked to the Communist Party of China (CCP) that benefit from the multi-million dollar manufacturing contracts, with the drawback that the ships of the Chinese regime’s navy are also built there.
“China’s opaque business ecosystem offers limited transparency into the flow of capital within its shipbuilding industry, but available evidence indicates that profits from foreign orders likely lower the costs of upgrading China’s navy,” the CSIS report notes.
China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC), the world’s largest commercial shipbuilder, is owned by the CCP, and its assets are valued at $120 billion.
Not only that but “The shipyard is also responsible for delivering warships to the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). And the workshops, fabrication facilities, and slipways used for producing naval vessels are often the same as those used for a merchant ship,” explained another CSIS report last year.
CSSC’s ties to the CCP are such that “The company bills itself as the ‘leading force’ in developing naval weapons and equipment in support of national defense.”
Additionally, it occupies a prominent place in Beijing’s military-civilian fusion (MCF) strategy, which aims to improve the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). It also seeks to enhance the power of the CCP in all areas within its reach.
It is clear from this situation that the risks to the national security of the United States and other countries are of such magnitude that in 2020, the U.S. government prohibited U.S. individuals and companies from investing in 31 Chinese companies linked to the PLA and CSSC was precisely one of them.
It has some 100 subsidiaries on Chinese territory, but among these are the four most important shipyards, located in the provinces of Dalian, Jiangnan, Hudong-Zhonghua, and Huangpu Wenchong.
These industrial centers manufacture dozens of surface combat ships for the PLAN and obtain contracts worth billions of dollars from foreign companies, to which they sell at least 64% of their production.
Close relationship of the world’s shipping companies with the CCP
On the other hand, the lack of transparency of records provided by CSSC does not allow determining the proportion in which global shipping companies leverage the production of equipment for the Chinese regime’s navy. Instead, satellite observations infer: “a direct exchange of resources between military and civilian operations in China’s key shipyards.”
Over several years, it became evident that ships ordered from China by Taiwan’s shipping giant Evergreen Marine Corporation were built in the same shipyards along with the PLA’s most powerful aircraft carriers, cruisers, and destroyers.
Given the pressing and numerous recent incursions by CCP fighter aircraft into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, this proximity of Taiwanese Evergreen and CCP fighter ships in Chinese shipyards becomes a matter of national security concern for the big island.
In addition to Evergreen, the CSSC shipyards work for the Mediterranean Shipping Company of Switzerland (the world’s largest by cargo capacity), Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha (K-Line), and Mitsui OSK Lines of Japan. Japan already has a robust shipping industry.
Various shipping companies worldwide buy ships from the CCP and deliver specialized technology to the CCP’s shipyards.
An example of such a transfer is provided by the French ship engineering company Gaztransport & Technigaz SA (GTT), which “has signed several agreements to make its technology available to Chinese shipbuilders,” confirms CSIS. GTT also shares close ties with CMA CGM.
CMA CGM, also French, has become the world’s third-largest container shipping company, with at least 200 shipping routes moving between 400 ports in 150 countries.
Even more compromising proved to be the actions of the U.S. cruise company, Carnival Cruise Lines, based in Doral, Florida, which partnered with CSSC to create the company CSSC Cruise Technology Development in 2016.
As a result of deals made worth $1.5 billion, Carnival Cruise Lines transferred two of its existing cruise ships to the new joint venture, from where, presumably, CSSC had access to all the technology available on these liners.
It is worth remembering that the development and implementation of the complex technological procedures achieved involved high research and development costs to the nations that invested in them but are now passed to the Chinese regime.
In the field of military projects, technology is crucial. Hu Wenming, the former president of China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC), said, “The field of military products is very high-tech and innovative, so without the necessary amount of technology, it is very hard to enter this industry.”
Thus, the same CSIS report warns, “Policymakers in Washington should explore opportunities to incentivize foreign companies away from China and toward partnerships with South Korean and Japanese alternatives.”
In issuing this recommendation, it was considered that, in addition to these countries’ expertise in the shipbuilding industry, their respective governments are elected by their citizens’ free exercise of democracy, a practice prohibited in China by the CCP.
The worrying commercial relations between powerful worldwide shipping companies, which could be helping the development of the PLAN, the threat is aggravated by the lack of transparency in the strategic management of this navy.
The CCP’s naval advance strategy
On the other hand, observers are not unaware of the strategic practices with which the CCP causes controversy and displeasure to countries whose maritime sovereignty rights it violates.
In its aggressive advance towards its alleged domination of the world’s seas, the CCP is accused of using a large fleet of Chinese fishing vessels as if it were a maritime militia. Still, it does not admit it, according to experts.
On this topic, the executive director of the Paul Tsai China Center at Yale Law School, Robert Williams, weighed in. He stressed the coercion that often characterizes the Chinese regime.
“China is highly effective in utilizing non-militarized coercion tools. As a result, Beijing has not been keen to give up these tools, which it sees as incurring limited escalation risks with neighboring countries,” Williams wrote on the Brookings Institution’s Lawfare blog.
And he notes that such a strategy could have damaging consequences for the CCP: “It would be an exaggeration … to claim that the Chinese military establishment enjoys crises. Many PLA thinkers are very sensitive to the destabilizing risks of military crises,” Williams noted.
Specifically, it points to the so-called “Little Blue Men” fleet. More than 200 blue-painted boats raided the Philippine Whitsun Reef, located in the South China Sea, on March 7, 2021. The vessels are believed to be manned by Chinese maritime militia personnel.
“The continued deployment, persistent presence and activities of Chinese vessels infringe on Philippine sovereignty,” the Philippine Foreign Ministry stated in a diplomatic protest, adding that “their threatening swarming presence creates an atmosphere of instability.”
The Philippine protest was backed by the U.S. State Department, with its spokesman, Ned Price, saying his country “stands with our ally, the Philippines, regarding concerns about the gathering of (Chinese) maritime militia vessels near Whitsun Reef.”
He added: “We call on Beijing to stop using its maritime militia to intimidate and provoke others, which undermines peace and security.” He also reiterated that Chinese vessels had been docking in the area for many months in increasing numbers.
The CCP embassy replied, “There is no Chinese maritime militia as alleged.”
However, “The People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia does not fish,” said Carl Schuster, former director of operations for the U.S. Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center.
He explained: “They have automatic weapons on board and reinforced hulls, which makes them very dangerous at close range. In addition, they have a top speed of about 18-22 knots, which makes them faster than 90% of the world’s fishing boats,” according to CNN.
To broaden the context of the protests over these CCP actions, it is noteworthy that an international tribunal in 2016 invalidated the Chinese communist regime’s claims over 90% of the South China Sea. However, Beijing did not accept the ruling and has built islands equipped with radar, missile batteries, and hangars for fighter jets in that maritime territory.
In another event, which experts say is part of the Chinese regime’s effort to extend its power over the world’s waterways, a Chinese navy ship remained anchored in the Sulu Sea, southwest of the Philippines, from Jan. 29 to Feb. 1.
The Department of Foreign Affairs declared this further violation of Philippine rights in Manila as an “illegal incursion.”
For his part, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that the Chinese research vessel had carried out “an exercise of the right of innocent passage pursuant to UNCLOS [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.”
Herman Kraft, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman to VOA, retorted, “Talking about innocent passage seems to be an excuse that recognizes Philippine jurisdiction over the area.”
As if that were not enough, the alleged militia is camouflaged as the Chinese regime’s fishing fleet, the largest globally, given that it has more than 187,000 boats, Andrew Erickson, a leading U.S. expert on the subject, told CNN. However, there is no certainty regarding their actual number.
Implications of the CCP’s naval militia
China’s armed fishing militia—or People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM) as the U.S. Department of Defense names it, “… has existed for decades and augments Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) and PLA Navy (PLAN) operations in the region,” explain authors Derek Grossman and Logan Ma of the RAND Corporation.
The Chinese regime uses it to: “win without fighting,” overwhelming the adversary with swarms of fishing vessels, usually reinforced from the rear, along with Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) and possibly PLAN ships, depending on contingency, in scalable concentric rings.
The use of the thousands of fishing boats manned by the “Little Blue Men,” allowed the CCP to maneuver, evading the response from the navies of the countries they attacked.
“A key lesson Beijing learned was that harnessing fishing militia forces was far less likely to provoke U.S. intervention in the matter, even when the threatened neighbor was a U.S. ally,” Grossman and Ma note.
And they recall the impact of the little blue men’s impact: “After the Battle of the Paracel Islands in 1974, the PAFMM has been observed in almost every major PLAN and GCC operation to harass maritime counterclaimants on disputed features or to seize features from them.”
Also, since the CCP states that they are not military vessels, it can claim that any action against them by foreign navies or coast guards would constitute an attack on Chinese civilians. That deters small countries from fighting them for fear of retaliation by the sending regime.
However, Andrew Erickson, a U.S. expert, and his colleague Ryan Martinson debunked PAFMM, writing, “There is no evidence of fishing whatsoever during these laser-focused operations. But every indication of trolling for territorial claims,” which demonstrates the dual role of this surreptitious naval force.
The Department of Defense to the U.S. Congress officially recognized the existence of PAFMMs, considering them as the Chinese regime’s “third naval force,” in a 2018 report.
It also classified them as part of the CCP’s navy: “The PLAN, CCG, and People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM) form the largest maritime force in the Indo-Pacific,” the report added.
Is the Chinese regime’s naval fleet the largest?
On some websites, the Chinese military’s naval fleet ranks as the largest globally, with 777 ships, while the next largest country, Russia, has 603. But it is not enough to have numerous ships; other criteria are involved, for example, the power of the vessels.
Considering only the number of ships, “this is akin to saying a squirrel is the same as a rhino, or a scooter is the same as an 18-wheel semi-truck,” illustrates the World Population Review website.
From the perspective of carrying capacity, calculated in tons of cargo, the U.S. Navy has been the most powerful since World War II. Moreover, it is projected to remain so to 2030 by author Kyle Mizokami in The National Interest.
In this regard, “The U.S. is expected to remain the dominant global naval power in 2030, thanks to an unmatched combination of sheer tonnage and technological advancement. The U.S. Navy doesn’t just have many ships, it has many massive, cutting-edge ships,” emphasizes World Population Review.
However, other countries will also continue to grow their respective navies, including China, as “the PLAN has ambitious plans to keep adding more and more ships.
Thus, although it is not denied that the PLAN is powerful and uses controversial strategies, the global context places it in its actual proportions within the maritime sphere that integrates all nations.
Contradictions of the Chinese regime
The Chinese regime has announced that it will push its development to become the world’s leading country as one of its policies. The heavy investments it is making in the modernization of its army and naval force show that it is on track to achieve its goal by 2049.
However, in addition to the numerous international conflicts the Chinese leader generates with his aggressive actions, he also faces intense social contradictions within China, constituting a time bomb that could frustrate his ambitious plans and even threaten his existence.
Just citing the human rights violations it carries out in the exercise of international fishing, recently denounced by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), a London-based non-governmental organization, gives an insight into them.
This Chinese distant water fleet (CDWF) employs “destructive practices such as bottom trawling and the use of forced, bonded and slave labor and trafficked crew,” to strip huge fish harvests from African coastal communities.