China should send more militia missions to safeguard territorial sovereignty and the marine rights and interests in the South China Sea, a national legislator said.
The number of such missions assigned to the militia in Tanmen, a port township among the nearest to Nansha in the South China Sea, has dropped in recent years, Wang Shumao, deputy head of the militia, told the Global Times.
The militia expects to receive more missions including patrols and to drive away invading vessels in the South China Sea, said Wang, who is also a deputy to the National People's Congress (NPC).
According to Wang, the militia has been driving away foreign vessels entering the region every year, and local fishermen have been safeguarding the waters for generations.
Chinese media have called fishermen in Tanmen China's "marine rights protection vanguard" in the South China Sea.
While foreign vessels are better equipped, Chinese captains are more familiar with the region they have lived in for decades, so the militia seldom fails in these missions, Wang said on the sidelines of the ongoing annual NPC meeting.
The militia has 128 members and around 12 ships equipped with the GPS system, BeiDou navigation system and maritime satellite phone. It provides around 500 pieces of intelligence information from the South China Sea every year, Wang said.
Tanmen militia is not the only militia involved in missions in the South China Sea. In 2013, a militia was also established in the city of Sansha, which was expanded from 215 to over 600 members by the end of 2016, the Sansha government website said.
The Sansha militia is capable of providing support services, protecting sovereignty and fishing activities, and offering emergency rescue work, the China News Service reported in September 2016.
Compared to the Sansha militia, the Tanmen militia, which was established in 1985, has more sophisticated captains and are more familiar with the local environment, Wang said.
The Tanmen militia spends around 60 days of training a year, including a month for regular training offshore and nine days of live-fire training, said the 61-year-old veteran fisherman.
The training includes rescue courses, first-aid treatment and sessions like intercepting entering vehicles, Wang explained.
The militia has rescued more than 600 fishermen, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
Since the 1990s, more than 170 fishermen have been detained, fired upon or abused by foreign forces at sea, Xinhua reported in 2016, citing government data.
Tanmen has almost 5,000 fishermen, including nearly 1,000 who work in the Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha island groups and surrounding waters.