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China turns supply ships in the South China Sea into a mobile surveillance base – Radio Free Asia

China is upgrading two civilian supply vessels in the South China Sea with new high-tech surveillance equipment to help them track ships of the United States, Vietnam and other countries, and new procurement documents. Chinese government showed.

This is just the latest example of the Chinese government utilizing civilian assets to pursue national security interests in the South China Sea, a popular practice under its “military-civilian integration” strategy. China.

The contract for this project was awarded by the city of Sanya to Zhejiang Dali Science and Technology Co., Ltd., which is responsible for administering China’s maritime and territorial claims in the South China Sea. dispute.

Dali, which also appears to be cooperating with the Chinese military, is set to supply a pair of “DLS-16T Long Distance Electro Optical Surveillance System” for use on two of the city’s main supply ships – the Sansha 1 and Sansha 2 – for 3,830,000 yuan ($ 547,000).

Train offers multi-function

Sansha 1 and Sansha 2 are mainly responsible for supplying Woody Island, which is the largest Chinese base in Paracel Islands and serves as the headquarters for Sanya City. Although Hoang Sa is claimed by Vietnam, China and Taiwan, only the PRC occupies any geographical feature in the archipelago.

But both ships also ventured further south to Truong Sa, where China is bound in maritime and territorial disputes with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.

Automatic identification system (AIS) data from April 2020 to April 2021 shows that Sansha 1 and Sansha 2 are operating in Hoang Sa and Truong Sa. Data: MarineTraffic; Analysis: RFA.

The Sansha 1 came into service in January 2015 and the Sansha 2 completed its maiden voyage in August 2019. This allows the city’s older Qiongsha 3 supply vessel to focus on providing zones. Chinese settlement at Crescent Group in Hoang Sa, state-run. Hainan Daily report.

State-owned Guangzhou CSSC International Shipyard, where the Tam Sa 2 ship is built, to speak that the 128-meter ship will integrate “transport and supply, administrative jurisdiction, emergency response command, emergency medical assistance, and the ability to conduct scientific surveys of islands and reefs. “

The company also claims that the Tam Sa 2 ship will “play an important role in defending the southern gateway to the motherland” – that is how China sometimes refers to the territory it claims. in the South China Sea is disputed.


Satellite images from December 2020 show Sansha 1 and Sansha 2 docking at Woody Island. Image: Planet Labs Inc; Analysis: RFA.

Protect the southern gate of the country

Once they are equipped with new surveillance equipment, the Sansha 1 and Sansha 2 will be able to play an even bigger role in asserting China’s claims.

According to the bidding documents reviewed by RFA, the DLS-16T Long Distance Electro Optical Surveillance System from Agent is designed to allow supply vessels to “search, observe, monitor and obtain by multidirectional video evidence against maritime and aerial targets “such as ships, people aboard, sea floating objects and aircraft in all weather conditions, 24 hours a day.

Tam Sa City is looking for a tracking system that integrates visible light imaging, infrared thermal imaging, automatic target tracking, radar, fog intrusion capability, image enhancement, system US-operated GPS satellite navigation, China’s BeiDou equivalent system and other capabilities, bidding documents show.

The tracking device software system will be used to detect, identify and track “sensitive ships” from countries such as the United States, Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and Taiwan. as well as recording and displaying this information in real time, the documents said.

Company documents from Dali indicate that the company works closely with state-owned Chinese defense contractors and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

Dali will be obliged to complete its work on Sansha 1 and Sansha 2 within three months of signing the contract with the city of Tam Sa, the tender said.


Pictures of the DLS-16T Long Distance Electronic Optical Surveillance System from Dali website. Image: www.dali-tech.com.

Military – civil unification

China has a long track record of using civilian ships such as Tam Sa 1 and Tam Sa 2 to assert control of the South China Sea.

Devin Thorne, an analyst based in Washington DC, told RFA that “there are some ways that China’s civilian fleets contribute to national security as part of the military-civilian combination. “, refers to China’s strategy of aggregating resources to promote both defense and development goals at the same time. .

“They help assert China’s maritime rights by simply being active in disputed areas, facilitating the exercise of military might, and opening the eyes of the North,” said Thorne. Spread out in the seas near by.

For example, the Chinese government has installed the BeiDou satellite navigation system – with built-in messaging capabilities – on thousands of fishing boats to allow these ships to conduct maritime surveillance in the South China Sea. Chinese data shows.

In addition to utilizing ordinary fishermen, China has also deployed professionalized maritime militias to monitor disputed areas.


Satellite images from March 25, 2021 show about two hundred Chinese fishing boats or militiamen at the Whitsun Reef in the Spratly Islands. Image: Planet Labs.

Thorne told RFA that “the People’s Armed Forces’ Maritime Militia fishing vessels are best suited for reconnaissance missions thanks to their intelligence gathering training and stealth capabilities. lurk for a long time in disputed seas. “

“But at least since 2014, some maritime militias have also started using heavy industrial ships. Their role appears to be to provide logistical support and reconnaissance missions during military operations, ”explains Thorne.

Thorne added that “China’s civilian fleets are also used to exert pressure in territorial disputes and, in some cases, to provoke conflict”.

For example, the presence of more than 200 Chinese fishing boats or marine militia at the Whitsun Reef in the Spratly Islands sparked a diplomatic confrontation between Manila and Beijing in late March. RFA’s BenarNews news report.

“Fishing fleets are often at the forefront of this activity. However, during the 2014 HYSY 981 decommissioning phase, we also saw Chinese state-owned merchant vessels chasing, crashing and spraying Vietnamese ships, ”says Thorne.

“I do not know of another case where China used merchant ships like this, but the maritime militia and other parts of the Chinese armed forces have continued to link up with the ships. industrial team. It could happen again, ”Thorne warns.



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