March 29, 2021

Even as dozens of Chinese “fishing vessels” strongly resembling the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM) have been anchoring at the disputed Whitsun Reef—without doing any fishing—within the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone in the South China Sea, Chinese officials have responded to formal Philippine and U.S. concerns about maritime militia activities with denial and obfuscation. When pressed on March 22, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying deflected: “Chinese fishing boats have been fishing in the waters near the reef all along. Recently, due to maritime situation, some fishing boats have been taking shelter from the wind near [Whitsun Reef], which is quite normal.” Her Chinese Embassy Manila counterpart issued a direct denial: “There is no Chinese maritime militia as alleged.”

BY  | MARCH 29, 2021, 2:07 PM

Andrew Erickson photo

Andrew Erickson is a professor of strategy in the U.S. Naval War College (NWC)’s China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI). He helped to establish CMSI in 2006, and has subsequently played an integral role in its development. Since 2008 Erickson has been an associate in research at Harvard’s Fairbank Center. He has taught courses at NWC and Yonsei University, and advises student research and provides curricular inputs at NWC and elsewhere. He helped to establish, and to escort the first iteration of, NWC’s first bilateral student exchange in China, which he continues to support. For over a decade, Erickson has managed NWC’s scholarly research relationship with Japanese counterparts.

Photo Credit: By NASA -, CC BY-SA 4.0,