WASHINGTON Near the top of US Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Scott Swift’s concerns is China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), and close behind is the country’s burgeoning Coast Guard. But a third government-controlled seagoing force, the little-known and somewhat mysterious maritime militia, is drawing increased attention.

“Let’s be careful to not characterize them as, you know, a rag-tag group of fishermen. They’re well organized,” Swift told a small group of reporters in Washington Nov. 18.

The militia, Swift said, “are structured. [Chinese president] Xi Jinping has gone to visit them, recognized them publicly for their great efforts.”

The militia “are operating largely independently out there or in groups,” Swift said. And while not strictly a military force, the militia, to Swift, are not acting randomly.

“I think they have a clear command and control. It’s transparent to me,” he said.

Chinese officials routinely deny any government connection, and have described the militia as fishermen wearing camouflage uniforms for sun protection. On at least one occasion they were referred to as a film crew. Their ships have had a strong hand in numerous encounters at sea and on one occasion obstructed a US Navy surveillance ship and tried to snatch its towed listening gear.

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Featured image courtesy of the Wall Street Journal.