Since completing its terraforming and island reclamation projects in the Spratly Islands in 2016, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has shifted its emphasis to asserting dominance over the South China Sea. A key component of this pivot has been the expansion of China’s maritime militia—a force of vessels ostensibly engaged in commercial activity, but which in fact conducts operations in concert with Chinese law enforcement and military institutions to help the party-state achieve its military and political aims in the South China Sea’s disputed waters.

In Episode 52 of the Irregular Warfare Podcast, our guests discuss China’s gray zone strategy in littoral Asia, and the role that the PRC’s maritime militia plays in advancing China’s illegal sovereignty claims in the South China Sea.

Gregory B. Poling directs the Southeast Asia Program and Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, where he is also a senior fellow. He is a leading expert on disputes in the South China Sea, and conducts research on US alliances and maritime security across the Indo-Pacific. He is the author of several works on Asian security, to include his forthcoming book On Dangerous Ground: America’s Century in the South China Sea. In November of 2021, Mr. Poling helped publish the report “Pulling Back the Curtain on China’s Maritime Militia,” which serves as a framework for the episode.

Colonel Sean Berg has a long and distinguished career within the special operations community. Shortly after graduating from the Special Forces Qualification Course, he was assigned to 10th Special Forces Group (SFG) and commanded at multiple levels, culminating with command of 1st Battalion, 10th SFG in 2014. During that stretch, Colonel Berg deployed to Kosovo and then performed numerous deployments to Iraq, North Africa, and Afghanistan. He returned to Afghanistan with the Special Operations Joint Task Force, and then transitioned to the Indo-Pacific Command theater in 2016, commanding the 196th Infantry Brigade. He currently serves as the deputy commander of Special Operations Command Pacific.

Benjamin Jebb and Laura Jones are the hosts for Episode 52. Please reach out to with any questions about this episode or the Irregular Warfare Podcast

The Irregular Warfare Podcast is a production of the Irregular Warfare Initiative (IWI). We are a team of volunteers dedicated to bridging the gap between scholars and practitioners in the field of irregular warfare. IWI generates written and audio content, coordinates events for the IW community, and hosts critical thinkers in the field of irregular warfare as IWI Fellows. You can follow and engage with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, or LinkedIn.

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Image credit: US Navy