Recognizing the inbuilt risks of China’s fragmented maritime bureaucracy, Xi pushed with a series of initiatives to remedy the situation. On the one hand, he established the State Security Committee (SSC), which allows him to personally supervise and streamline the civilian and military aspects of China’s foreign- and domestic-security policy. The SSC could also serve as a crisis-management body, especially as Beijing’s territorial spats with neighboring states and geopolitical tensions with the United States intensify. In addition, he has streamlined China’s maritime law-enforcement agencies by designating the National Oceanic Administration (NOA) as the overarching body to oversee China’s coast guard-related activities in the South China Sea. The NOA was now in charge of the fisheries patrols of the Agriculture Ministry, the coast guard patrols of the Public Security Ministry and the antismuggling operations of the General Administration of Customs. Overall, China moved towards creating a more versatile Coast Guard to manage its territorial affairs in adjacent waters.
So far, Xi Jinping has shunned any major compromise vis-à-vis China’s territorial disputes. He seems to have been primarily concerned with his domestic-reform agenda, which could spark a political backlash by disaffected interest groups and officials in the near future. But once Xi fully consolidates his position at home and secures his nationalist credentials, he will be in a better position to resolve China’s territorial disputes. It remains to be seen, however, whether he is interested in any compromise at all; but at least China’s neighbors can take comfort in the fact that China’s maritime policy has become increasingly disciplined and centralized under Xi’s watch.
Richard Javad Heydarian is an Assistant Professor in international affairs and political science at De La Salle University, and a policy advisor at the Philippine House of Representatives. As a specialist on Asian geopolitics and economic affairs, he has written for or interviewed by Al Jazeera, Asia Times, BBC, Bloomberg, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, The Diplomat, The National Interest, and USA TODAY, among other leading international publications. He is the author of How Capitalism Failed the Arab World: The Economic Roots and Precarious Future of the Middle East Uprisings (Zed, London), and the forthcoming book The Philippines: The US, China, and the Struggle for Asia’s Pivot State (Zed, 2015). You can follow him on Twitter:@Richeydarian.