China's Coast Guard is Now a Military Police Unit

Hull number 3901, China's second "10,000 tonne" displacement cutter (China Defense Blog)

Published Mar 21, 2018 8:51 PM by The Maritime Executive

Chinese state media announced Wednesday that the nation's coast guard will be placed under the command of the Central Military Commission, bringing it closer to the formal status of a military force. 

Since 2013, the China Coast Guard has been a division of the State Oceanic Administration, which is under the civilian Ministry of Land and Resources. At the annual National People's Congress last week, delegates voted to put the China Coast Guard under the People's Armed Police Force. Since January, this military police division has answered directly to the Central Military Commission, a body chaired by President Xi Jinping. According to the language authorizing the reorganization, the move is required “to fully implement the [Chinese Communist] Party’s absolute leadership over the PLA and other armed forces."

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

A Japanese government source told Nikkei that the transfer of the China Coast Guard into the military police is concerning. China's coast guard, fishing fleet and military vessels frequently visit the waters near the disputed Senkaku Islands, and "the boundary between police and military activity has grown unclear, making it difficult to respond," the source said. 

China has also deployed its coast guard to defend its maritime claims in the South China Sea - so frequently that RAND analyst Lyle Morris calls this the "era of the coast guards" in the Asia-Pacific. "By employing what China regards as non-military assets to demonstrate administrative control over disputed territory, China has attempted to 'civilianize' its expansion of sovereignty," he wrote last year. Meanwhile, he notes, China has invested in larger, more heavily armed cutters built on PLA(N) frigate designs, making its coast guard vessels ever-closer in appearance to warships.