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China Coast Guard

The leadership of China's coast guard was transferred from oceanic authorities to the country's army beginning 01 July 2018, a move that analyst said will enable it to play a bigger role in emergencies and crises including war. A marine police corps under the Chinese People's Armed Police Force will be established to guard China's marine rights and function as a law enforcement body. The decision was adopted by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, on 22 June 2018. The coast guard was previously administrated by the State Oceanic Administration.

The change put the coast guard under the direct administration of China's Central Military Commission (CMC), enabling the China Coast Guard (CCG) to be more involved in military drills and daily exercises with People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy. The coast guard can cooperate more efficiently with the PLA Navy when involved in emergencies and war. The coast guard is responsible for fighting criminal maritime activities, search and rescue, and enforcing laws including maritime resource exploration, environmental protection, fishery management and anti-smuggling efforts. Coast guard ships would be armed with more powerful small diameter cannons instead of water cannon, Song said. Under the leadership of the CMC, ship crews could also be authorized to carry fire arms. A coordination mechanism will be established among the CCG, public security bureaus and relevant administrative departments.

At the annual National People's Congress in March 2018, delegates voted to put the China Coast Guard under the People's Armed Police Force. Since January 2018, this military police division answered directly to the Central Military Commission, a body chaired by President Xi Jinping. According to the language authorizing the reorganization, the move was required “to fully implement the [Chinese Communist] Party’s absolute leadership over the PLA and other armed forces."

Since 2013, the China Coast Guard had been a division of the State Oceanic Administration, which is under the civilian Ministry of Land and Resources. In addition, the State Oceanic Administration - itself just five years old - was be disbanded. The agency was created in 2013 to bring together all of China's maritime law enforcement units under one umbrella. Its functions were taken over by the newly formed Ministry of Natural Resources, which also replacee the Ministry of Land and Resources and the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping.

The use of civilian maritime security agency vessels has consistently been a successful tactic by China in staking claims to maritime territories. During the 2012 Scarborough Reef and Senkaku Island tensions, the China Maritime Surveillance (CMS) and Fisheries Law Enforcement Command (FLEC) ships were responsible for directly managing the disputes on a daily basis, while the PLA Navy maintained a more distant presence away from the immediate vicinity of the contested waters. China prefers to use its civilian maritime agencies in these disputes, and use the PLA Navy further ashore from disputed areas or as an escalatory measure.

China had five different departments and maritime law enforcement tasks. They belong to the higher authorities from different business perspectives respectively responsible for law enforcement within their respective business areas. According to Chinese statistics, there were about 40,000 people in maritime law enforcement jobs.

Lyle J. Goldstein noted in 2010 that "China remains relatively weak in the crucially important middle domain of maritime power, that between commercial prowess and hard military power, which is concerned with maritime governance—enforcing a nation’s own laws and ensuring “good order” off its coasts. Despite major improvements over the last decade, China’s maritime enforcement authorities remain balkanized and relatively weak—described in a derogatory fashion by many Chinese experts as so many “dragons stirring up the sea.” In Northeast Asia, China’s weak maritime enforcement capacities are the exception, especially when compared to the coast guard capacities of Japan (or, outside the region, of the United States). Indeed, Japan’s coast guard was recently described as almost, if not quite, a second navy for Tokyo. China’s relative weakness in this area is a mystery..."

“Develop the marine economy and build China into a maritime power” was a new goal set at the 18th CPC National Congress. At the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2012, the country's leaders announced that the nation would accelerate the development of its ocean resources, resolutely safeguard its maritime rights and interests, and develop into a big maritime power. A big maritime power is one that develops the seas and its resources to benefit the country and safeguard its maritime territories and rights. A big maritime power is also one that develops its marine resources and maritime economy, protects its marine ecology and boosts its coastal defenses.

By becoming a big maritime power, China can improve the development pattern of its marine resources - making it more reasonable and orderly - coordinate the distribution of land and sea resources and make its economy sustainable. Becoming a big maritime power will help China develop innovative marine technology by promoting deeper research into significant marine issues and it will help China protect its marine ecology and biodiversity. On the military front, it will help China strengthen its maritime forces and coastal security, and help it protect its overseas interests.

Meng Hongwei, the vice-minister of public security, was named as the head of the Maritime Police Bureau and the deputy director of the State Oceanic Administration, according to the State Oceanic Administration. The agency held a press conference on 19 March 2013 to announce the appointment after a restructuring plan was unveiled on 10 March 2013 to integrate the country's maritime law enforcement forces. Under the plan, the newly built Maritime Police Bureau will unify multiple marine forces, including the China Maritime Surveillance, the coast guard forces of the Ministry of Public Security, the fisheries law enforcement command of the Ministry of Agriculture, and the maritime anti-smuggling authorities of the General Administration of Customs.

China's top oceanic administration formally went into operation 23 July 2013 after months of restructuring. A new name board of China Coast Guard was officially put outside its headquarters in Beijing. The status of the former State Oceanic Administration was obscure, with some sources reporting it had been replaced by the Coast Guard, and other resporting that the Coast Guard was subordnate to the SOA. The restructured body integrates the functions of China Marine Surveillance, the coast guard forces under the Ministry of Public Security, the fisheries law enforcement command with the Ministry of Agriculture and maritime anti-smuggling police of the General Administration of Customs.

It will be seen that there is some ambiguity in the translation of agency names from Chinese to English. The "State Oceanic Administration" [SOA] is also rendered as the "National Oceanic Administration" (NOA) while the terms "China Coast Guard" and "China Maritime Police Bureau (CMPB)" are used rather interchangably. Most sources prefer State Oceanic Administration [SOA] for the pre-existing agency, and "China Coast Guard" for the agency newly formed in 2013.

The move was made as part of the Chinese government's efforts to restructure its cabinet earlier this year, along with five other departments, to enhance maritime law enforcement and strengthen protection and use of its oceanic resources. The new administration is supervised by the Ministry of Land and Resources, and implements maritime law enforcement and safeguard the country's sovereignty over territorial waters within the jurisdiction of the China Coast Guard.

On the afternoon of 30 July 2013, the eighth group study session on the development of a maritime power was held by the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee. CPC General Secretary Xi Jinping, who presided over the study session, stressed that to develop the marine sector is an important part in China’s efforts to construct a socialist country with Chinese characteristics.

"To protect our nation’s maritime rights and interests, we should take a more balanced approach. We love peace and will adhere to the path of peaceful development, but that doesn’t mean that the country will abandon its legitimate rights and interests, in particular with regards to the nation’s core interests. Safeguarding state sovereignty and security is consistent with the interests of development, and enforcement should be enhanced to match the improvement of comprehensive national strength.

"We should settle dispute peacefully through negotiations, and strive to maintain peace and stability. Meanwhile, we should be prepared to cope with complicated issues, and improve our capabilities to resolutely maintain the nation’s maritime rights and interests. China will continue to follow the principle of “sovereignty residing with us, shelving disputes and seeking joint development” for areas over which China owns sovereign rights, promote friendly cooperation for mutual benefits, while pursuing and expanding common converging interests with other countries.

"The Chinese government has been consistently upholding the principle of “sovereignty residing with us, shelving disputes and seeking joint development” for areas over which China owns sovereign rights."

The new administration's duty on the integrated marine management and the maritime law enforcement will be strengthened, according to a circular issued by the State Council on 09 June 2013. Three maritime police branches, 11 police corps and its detachments across China's coastal provincial-level regions will be set to perform law enforcement, reads the circular. "By integrating five maritime divisions, it is conducive to the unity of command, and can help avoid overlaps," Yang Mian, a professor of international relations at the Communication University of China, told the Global Times.

"In addition, the new agency will also make our law enforcement more powerful. Except for China Marine Surveillance, those four administrative divisions that were not allowed to be equipped with weapons can be armed now," Yang said, adding that will be helpful to turn the situation around when they face other countries' maritime armed forces.

The maritime police command, a department under the SOA, is tasked with commanding and deploying marine police officers. The maritime police consists of the North Sea, East Sea and South Sea branches, with a total of 11 corps across China's coastal provincial-level regions.

On 10 March 2013 China announced plans to restructure the country's top oceanic administration to enhance maritime law enforcement and better protect and use its oceanic resources. The move would bring China's maritime law enforcement forces, currently scattered in different ministries, under the unified management of one single administration, according to a report to be delivered by State Councilor Ma Kai at the annual parliamentary session. The new agency, still named National Oceanic Administration (NOA), would have under its control the coast guard forces of the Public Security Ministry, the fisheries law enforcement command of the Agriculture Ministry, and the maritime anti-smuggling police of the General Administration of Customs. The NOA used to only have one maritime law enforcement department, China Marine Surveillance. The law enforcement agency of the expanded administration will be called the Maritime Police Bureau, Ma said. Analysts said law enforcement vessels currently painted with various ministerial logos will fall under the bureau, a Chinese version of the coast guard.

The move aimed at solving the problems of low efficiency in maritime law enforcement, improving protection and use of oceanic resources, and better safeguarding the country's maritime rights and interests, according to the report. The proposed administration, under the Ministry of Land and Resources, would carry out law enforcement activities in the name of China maritime police bureau and under the operational direction of the Ministry of Public Security. Apart from law enforcement, other functions of the new administration include outlining oceanic development plan, supervising and managing the use of sea waters, and protecting oceanic environment, the report said. A high-level consultation and coordinating body, the National Oceanic Commission, will also be set up to formulate oceanic development strategies and coordinate important oceanic affairs, according to the report.

The restructured State Oceanic Administration (SOA) and the newly-formed China Maritime Police Bureau (CMPB) officially opened on 22 July 2013, according to a report by China Ocean News. The SOA was reported to take on expanded responsibilities regarding marine law enforcement, while the CMPB, partly under the SOA's control, was reported to be responsible for deploying and commanding police officers. However, the bureau would also be under the "operational direction" of the Ministry of Public Security. The CMPB was reported to unify multiple marine forces, including China Maritime Surveillance, the coast guard under the Ministry of Public Security, the Fisheries Law Enforcement Command (Ministry of Agriculture) and the maritime anti-smuggling authorities of the General Administration of Customs. Approved by the State Council in June, the formation of two new oceanic departments was said to highlight the expanded duties of maritime law enforcement, improving the protection and usage of oceanic resources as well as better safeguarding China's maritime rights.

Xinhua reported 09 July 2013 that the maritime police command, a department under the SOA, was tasked with commanding and deploying marine police officers, according to the rule. The maritime police had three branches, namely the North Sea Branch, the East Sea Branch and the South Sea Branch, with a total of 11 corps across China's coastal provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities. China Daily rported 10 July 2013 that China's maritime authority was to boost its law enforcement capability with the allocation of some 16,300 marine police officers to safeguard maritime rights and interests. The Maritime Police Command Center, a department under the SOA, would give orders to the maritime police bureau, draw up law enforcement regulations and organize daily training, but the bureau would also be under the "operational direction" of the Ministry of Public Security.

Chinese vessels maintained regular patrols in 2013 in the territorial waters surrounding the Diaoyu Islands to safeguard the country's maritime rights, said Liu Cigui, director of the State Oceanic Administration (SOA), on 16 January 2014. China also achieved effective management and control over Huangyan Island last year, and Chinese ships have carried out patrols in the territorial waters around Beikang Ansha and Nankang Ansha since August, said Liu at a national maritime work conference. According to the China Coast Guard (CCG) of the SOA, CCG vessels conducted 36 regular patrols on 262 days in 2013, covering all the sea areas under China's jurisdiction. The vessels sailed close to 18 sites that have been encroached upon by other nations, around the Nansha Islands for observation and patrolled the territorial waters surrounding the Diaoyu Islands 50 times, said Liu.

"In 2014, the SOA will safeguard the country's legal rights and stability, and resolutely maintain China's maritime rights," he vowed. The SOA will reinforce patrols in territorial waters surrounding the Diaoyu Islands, Huangyan Island, Ren'ai Jiao, Beikang Ansha and Nankang Ansha, according to the body's director. It will likewise secure the base points of the country's territorial sea, he said. Liu added that China will also deepen maritime cooperation to create a win-win situation and stipulate strategies for a "maritime Silk Road" to promote sea-based economic collaboration.

IN JUne 2020 China introduced a law to further integrate its coast guard into the military. The amended law on the People's Armed Police Force went into effect on 21 June 2020 after the revision was approved by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress the previous day. The coast guard became part of the armed police force two years ago. The law says the coast guard will conduct joint drills with the military. In an emergency, the coast guard will be put under the command of the Central Military Commission headed by President Xi Jinping or theater commands.

The five civilian agency entities, commonly referred to as the “Five Dragons” are:



China Coast Guard

Hai Jing

ASB Anti-Smuggling Bureau Haiguan Subordinate to the General Administration of Customs and Ministry of Public Security. Armed entity responsible for criminal investigations and smuggling cases along China’s inland border posts and rivers.
CMPB Maritime Police Haijingaka China Coast Guard. Subordinate to the Ministry of Public Security. Active duty maritime police force responsible for combating maritime crime.
CMS China Marine Surveillance Haijian Subordinate to the State Oceanic Administration and Ministry of Land and Resources. Responsible for asserting China’s marine rights and sovereignty claims in disputed maritime regions.
FLEC Fisheries Law Enforcement Command YuZheng Subordinate to the Ministry of Agriculture. Enforces PRC fisheries laws and handles fishery disputes with foreign entities across China’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
MSA Maritime Safety Administration Haixun or Haibiao Subordinate to the Ministry of Transport. Responsible for safety of life at sea (SOLAS), maritime pollution control, and cleanup, port inspection, and maritime investigation.

In the decade out to 2020, an expanded and modernized force of civilian maritime ships would afford China the capability to more robustly patrol its territorial claims in the ECS and SCS. China is continuing with the second half of a modernization and construction program for its maritime law enforcement agencies. The first half of this program, from 2004-2008, resulted in the addition of almost 20 ocean-going patrol ships for the CMS (9), Bureau of Fisheries (BOF) (3), Maritime Safety Administration (MSA) (3), and China Coast Guard (2). The second half of this program, from 2011-2015, includes at least 30 new ships for the CMS (23), BOF (6), and MSA (1).

Several agencies have also acquired ships that were decommissioned from the PLA Navy. Some old patrol ships will be decommissioned during this period. In addition, MLE agencies will likely build more than 100 new patrol craft and smaller units, both to increase capability and to replace old units. Overall, CMS total force level is expected to increase 50 percent by 2020 and BOF by 25 percent. MSA, China Coast Guard, and Maritime Customs force levels will probably remain constant, but with larger and more capable units replacing older, smaller units. Some of these ships will have the capability to embark helicopters, a capability that only a few MLE ships currently have. The enlargement and modernization of China’s MLE forces will improve China’s ability to enforce its maritime sovereignty.

  • CMS state-level ships in the North Sea region were numbered 1x, 2x and 3x (Qingdao), in the East Sea region 4x (Ningbo), 5x (Shanghai) and 6x (Xiamen), in the South Sea region 7x, 8x and 9x (Guangzhou).
  • CMS provincial-level ships are numbered according to province: 10xx Liaoning, 20xx Hebei, 30xx Tianjin,, 40xx Shandong, 50xx Jiangsu, 60xx Shanghai, 70xx Zhejiang, 80xx Fujian, 90xx Guangdong, 11xx Guangxi and 21xx Hainan.
  • FLEC state-level ships in the North Sea region were numbered 1xx (Qingdao), in the East Sea region 2xx (Shanghai) and in the South Sea region 3xx (Guangzhou).
  • FLEC provincial-level vessels use the standardised provincial numbers: 21xxx Liaoning, 12xxx Tianjin, 13xxx Hebei, 37x0xx Shandong, 32xxx Jiangsu, 31xxx Shanghai, 33xxx Zhejiang, 35xxx Fujian, 44xxx Guangdong, 45xxx Guangxi and 46xxx Hainan (plus most inland provinces).
  • The Sea Police (Hai Jing) vessels use the same system, which is also being introduced on the former Customs (Hai Guan) vessels.

As the former CMS and FLEC state-level ships are reflagged into the new China Coast Guard, the numbers are changed into a four-digit format, with first digit 1, 2 or 3 indicating region, second digit displacement class, 3rd and 4th being individual numbers. After the entry into service of the new construction 1,000-ton provincial vessels, they too have changed to this system (and so will the 1,500-ton ships do as they enter service). The Marine Police unveiled the new painting, with impressively large print "China Coast Guard".

A draft of a revised law governing China's coast guard allows the use of arms against foreign vessels unlawfully conducting activities in waters under China's jurisdiction. The National People's Congress revealed the draft on 04 November 2020 for the first time. The draft details the responsibilities of the coast guard, maintaining it has the authority to forcibly drive away foreign vessels that intrude into Chinese territorial waters or interrogate the crew. It also allows the use of arms against vessels that do not obey orders in territorial seas, the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf.

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Page last modified: 07-11-2020 10:07:58 ZULU