China's Emboldened Coast Guard Is Not Your Father's Coast Guard
The Chinese Coast Guard is emboldened and ready to use military force.
Here's What You Need to Remember: This empowerment of the coast guard comes after the service was incorporated into the armed police force, which also included the coast guard fleet being upgraded with significantly larger vessels.
Despite being one of the newest—and certainly lesser-known—branches of the Central Military Commission, the Chinese People’s Armed Forces Coast Guard Corps (CPAFCGC) is also the world’s largest coast guard and has increasingly been taking on a role of a naval force. The Chinese Communist Party released a draft law in 2020 that would empower the Chinese Coast Guard to use actual “military force” against foreign vessels, and that could potentially be applied in disputes in the South China Sea.
Under this new law, China will allow its coast guard personnel to use weapons when foreign vessels are involved in illegal activities in waters under Beijing’s jurisdiction. The draft details, which were first revealed by the National People’s Congress on Wednesday, maintain that the coast guard has the authority to also forcibly drive away foreign vessels that intrude into Chinese territorial waters or even to interrogate their crews.
This empowerment of the coast guard comes after the service was incorporated into the armed police force, which also included the coast guard fleet being upgraded with significantly larger vessels.
The unit was formerly the maritime branch of the People’s Armed Police (PAP) Border Security, which served the Ministry of Public Security until 2013. Then in March of that year, Beijing announced it would form a unified coast guard commanded by the State Oceanic Administration, and that new unit was then transferred from civilian control to the PAP in 2018 and ultimately under the command of the Central Military Commission.
The “militarization” of the China Coast Guard actually began in 2007 when the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) transferred two Type 728 cutters, which at the time were the largest China Coast Guard ships in its fleet. In March 2017, the service sent its 12,000 ton China Coast Guard (CCG) 3901 cutter—which is not only the largest cutter in the world, but it is also larger in size the U.S. Navy’s aging 9,800 ton Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers or the 8,300-9,800 ton Arleigh-Burke-class guided missile destroyed.
The CCG 3901 is a true warship and is armed 76mm H/PJ-26 rapid fire naval guns, two auxiliary guns, and two anti-aircraft guns. It has a maximum speed of twenty-five knots and given its size it is easy to see why some analysts have nicknamed the white hulled ship the “Monster.”
China’s legal changes come as Beijing has amplified its claims to the Senkaku Islands (called Diaoyu by Beijing), which are administered by Tokyo, and could be used to target Japanese fishing vessels near the uninhabited islands.
The draft law’s rules of engagement are just the latest transition of the China Coast Guard into a true quasi-military force—and one under the PAP, which answers directly to the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Military Commission.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. This article is being republished due to reader interest.