KIMS Periscope

KIMS Periscope No. 131

China Coast Guard, Transforming into a Military Group?

Three Important Impicatons

Kim Sukkyoon

Adjunct Professor, Graduate School of Public Policy, Hanyang University

Recently, the China Coast Guard is experiencing a big change in its command system:  it transferred to the Chinese People’s Armed Police Force under the Central Military Commission from the State Oceanic Administration under the State Council. In other words, the command system was handed over to a body which is responsible for military affairs from an administrative body. The Central Military Commission is elected by National People’s Congress and its members are similar to the composition of Chinese Communist Party’s Central Military Commission. The change in the command system of the China Coast Guard was decided in June 23, 2018 by the standing committee of the Chinese parliament and implemented in July 1 in the same year. The purpose of such change is to be able to play a greater role in emergency situations and national crises such as wars. Also, before this shift took place, the Chinese government appointed the Central Military Commission to govern the command system of the Chinese People’s Armed Police Force as a single governing body starting from January 1 2018, which previously shared this responsibility with the Ministry of Public Security under the State Council.

The China Coast Guard was launched in 2013 with integration of four of the five maritime enforcement agencies called “Five Dragons”. These agencies include China Marine Surveillance under the Oceanic Administration, Bureau of Fisheries under the Ministry of Agriculture, Marine Smuggling Control under the General Administration of Customs, and the China Coast Guard under the Ministry of Public Security. Before integration, tasks related to law enforcement and protection of sovereignty over adjacent seas were distributed and conducted by these agencies. China Marine Surveillance was responsible for monitoring illegal fishing activities and protecting sovereignty over adjacent seas within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and the China Coast Guard under the Ministry of Public Security was responsible for monitoring crimes and search and rescue within the territorial sea and contiguous zone. Chinese leaders identified maritime affairs as one of China’s core interests and have been pushing policies to promote China to stand out in the field of maritime affairs while strengthening the role of the China Coast Guard. This is because there is a greater need to enhance the role of the China Coast Guard in dealing with maritime disputes and protecting rights and interests and to improve work inefficiency caused by dispersed tasks across agencies by integrating them into a collective task system. In 2012 the China Coast Guard fleet only had about 40 large ships over 1,000 tons, but the China Coast Guard is planning to expand its fleet by build dozens of new large ships each year up to 135 ships by 2019.

The structural change of the China Coast Guard has significant implications along with China’s recent offensive maritime policies. First, the nature of the China Coast Guard, which used to be a private paramilitary body under the State Oceanic Administration, shifted to a military body under the Central Military Commission. Consequently, the status the Coast Guard is expected to change from public officials to military personnel, and its armed forces are also expected to be strengthened. While new large warships have armed power equipped with 76mm naval guns, individual firearms of the Coast Guard personnel are also expected to be strengthened to the level of military personnel. This may in effect lead to strengthened naval power in China.

Second, there is concern that the Coast Guard may become more aggressive and forceful in zones in dispute. Strategic military actions in response to maritime dispute can increase the tension and lead to conflict or friction between Chinese warships and its counterpart in dispute.

Third, the organizational identity of the China Coast Guard unclear. The status of the ships of the China Coast Guard under the international law may be in controversy centering around a debate whether the ships of the China Coast Guard should be considered as warships as a military organization. The Chinese government announced that it will set up marine police corps under the Chinese People’s Armed Police Force to protect maritime rights and interests and enforce laws. It is still unclear whether China will divide law enforcement bodies and limit the takes and role of the China Coast Guard to protection of rights and interests and dealing with maritime disputes within EEZ.

Some analyses point out that the shift in the command system of the China Coast Guard shares the same context with Xi jinping’s attempt to strengthen military power. It will be noteworthy how the transformation of the China Coast Guard into a military body will affect the role it plays in maritime disputes with neighboring countries and how it will deal with the confrontation between U.S. and Chinese maritime forces in the South China Sea in the future.

ISSUE NO. 131  AUGUST 11, 2018

Dr. Kim Sukkyoon (sukkyoon2004@hanmail.net) passed the 37th Civil Service Examination to become a public official. He began his career as a deputy director in the Ministry of Government Legislation and later held office as a director of the Korea Coast Guard. He has nationally and internationally published several papers and books in areas including maritime dispute, maritime law enforcement, and maritime security.

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