China ‘militia rotation’ seen in SCS days after deescalation talks with PH | Global News
US maritime expert reports movement in Spratlys, Panatag

China ‘militia rotation’ seen in SCS days after deescalation talks with PH

/ 05:32 AM January 21, 2024

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FILE PHOTO: Chinese militia vessels operate at Whitsun Reef in the South China Sea, December 2, 2023. Philippine Coast Guard/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

MANILA, Philippines — Beijing has sent at least 27 vessels on a “major maritime militia rotation” in the South China Sea (SCS), in areas that had seen recurring tensions between Philippine and Chinese vessels.

The movement was reported by an American maritime security expert on Saturday, days after Philippine and Chinese officials met and again agreed to maintain communication lines for friendly dialogue to deescalate tensions.


“China has a major maritime militia rotation underway across the South China Sea, with at least 27 Qiong Sansha Yu-class ships deploying south into the Spratly Islands and east to Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal,” Ray Powell posted on X.


“We’ll likely see others returning to Hainan Island after a short overlap period,” added Powell, who heads Project Myoushu at the Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation in Stanford University.

BCM meeting

Before Saturday’s reported movement, Manila and Beijing convened their eighth Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) meeting in Shanghai and agreed to deescalate tensions not only in the South China Sea but also in the diplomatic arena.

This was after President Marcos early this week congratulated Taiwan’s President-elect Lai Ching-te, triggering a harsh response from China.

Taiwan’s assertion of sovereignty is a sensitive matter to Beijing, which claims the breakaway island as part of its sovereignty and has enjoined the community of nations, including the Philippines, to observe a one-China policy.

The two sides also agreed, in their meeting in Shanghai, to “maintain … communication and dialogue [since this] is essential to maintaining maritime peace and stability,” China’s Foreign Ministry said.

Vital waterway

Hainan is China’s southernmost province and the nearest to the South China Sea, an international waterway where an estimated $5.3 trillion worth of goods transit each year.


The Philippines claims the northeastern part of the Spratlys, which it calls the Kalayaan Island Group, and the waters of the South China Sea within its 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ) which the country calls the West Philippine Sea.

Scarborough Shoal, locally known as Panatag Shoal, or Bajo de Masinloc, is a small ring of reefs also within the country’s EEZ.

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Beijing seized control of Panatag Shoal following a standoff between the Philippine Navy and the Chinese Coast Guard in 2012.

TAGS: China maritime militia, maritime dispute, PH-China Relations, South China Sea, West Philippine Sea

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