Beijing is using Chinese fishermen to defend its claims in the South China Sea, but this could have unforeseen consequences.
Over the past four decades, China has gradually abandoned its self-imposed isolation in favor of deep ties with global markets. Though the new approach has pushed the Chinese economy to new heights, it has also made the country's supply lines more vulnerable, a reality to which the Chinese military has had to adapt. The seas -- not the land -- are now the key to China's economic security and regional dominance, and protecting them is one of Beijing's greatest concerns.
But safeguarding the South China Sea, the most valuable of China's waterways, is no easy task, and Beijing has had to employ a variety of creative tactics to do it. In addition to building up islands and troops alike, China has encouraged its fishermen to venture out into disputed waters. Using this maritime militia to carry out foreign policy has its drawbacks, though, and as the contested sea becomes more crowded...