The Rising Power of the Chinese Coast Guard

In the realm of maritime security, few entities have garnered as much attention and admiration as the Chinese Coast Guard. Over the past decade, this organization has rapidly grown in strength and reputation, leaving other countries in awe of its capabilities. Let’s delve into the journey of the Chinese Coast Guard and explore how it has emerged as a true force to be reckoned with.

The Unprecedented Growth

The Chinese Coast Guard currently operates through 20 detachments, which are further divided into North, East, and South Coast Guard Bureaus. Impressive in scale, they possess a formidable fleet of over 150 coast guard patrol ships exceeding 1,000 tons. Among these vessels are two of the world’s largest coast guard patrol ships, boasting a staggering 12,000-ton displacement, along with more than 70 ships surpassing 3,000 tons. When smaller ships are taken into account, the total number of vessels under their command surpasses 370.

The Rising Power of the Chinese Coast Guard

The sheer magnitude of the Chinese Coast Guard’s fleet sets it apart from many regular navies across the globe. After all, which another coast guard possesses law enforcement ships exceeding 10,000 tons in displacement? Even China’s world-class 055 destroyer stands at a similar level of prowess.

The Evolutionary Journey

However, it is essential to trace back a decade ago when the Chinese coast guard was quite different. Back then, they only had about 20 patrol ships in the thousand-ton class and above. The organizational structure was marked by chaos, primarily due to intricate jurisdictional issues.

The different departments responsible for maritime law enforcement, oceanic affairs, environmental protection, and public security often led to inefficiencies and duplicated management efforts. This situation arose due to the multiple agencies sharing resources and funding, causing difficulties in carrying out effective operations. It was akin to having fingers of different lengths.

The Rising Power of the Chinese Coast Guard

During this time, Japan’s control over the disputed Diaoyu Islands remained unchecked, and China could only voice its protests passively. Adding insult to injury, Japan even staged a dramatic spectacle of purchasing these islands, much to the frustration of the Chinese government and its people.

The Path to Reform

Recognizing the need for a more streamlined approach, the State Council of China initiated the reorganization of the State Oceanic Administration in 2013. The aim was to consolidate various units under a unified command and dispatch mechanism, leading to the formation of the China Coast Guard. This marked a pivotal moment in their journey towards enhanced coordination and efficiency.

Further changes were introduced in 2018 when the maritime police, previously under the State Oceanic Administration, was transferred to the Armed Police Force as part of a broader military reform policy. Consequently, the Armed Police Marine Police Corps was established, placing the China Coast Guard under the purview of the Central Military Commission. This triple jump significantly bolstered the capabilities of China’s coast guard force and paved the way for assertive operations in territorial waters.

The Unyielding Resolve

The Chinese Coast Guard’s unwavering commitment to safeguarding China’s territorial claims is evident in their actions. Consider the astonishing fact that they patrolled the disputed Diaoyu Islands for over 330 days in a single year. Instances such as blinding the crew of a foreign vessel with lasers on Ren’ai Reef further exemplify their resolute stance.

In 2018, the Chinese Coast Guard deployed over 70 ships to the waters surrounding the Diaoyu Islands, accumulating nearly 160 patrol days. This number surged to over 200 patrol days in 2019. These continuous patrols not only assert China’s territorial claims but also serve as a message to other countries with conflicting interests in the region.

The Rising Power of the Chinese Coast Guard

Furthermore, the Chinese Coast Guard has been actively involved in protecting China’s maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea. They have been instrumental in asserting China’s claims over the disputed Spratly Islands, Scarborough Shoal, and other contested areas. Through a combination of patrols, law enforcement actions, and maritime surveillance, they have reinforced China’s presence and exerted influence over these strategic waters.

Advanced Capabilities

The Chinese Coast Guard’s rise to power is not solely attributed to the size of its fleet or the duration of its patrols. They have also made significant advancements in technology and equipment. Their vessels have advanced surveillance systems, communication systems, and weaponry. This enables them to effectively monitor and respond to maritime incidents, enforce laws, and protect China’s maritime interests.

In recent years, the Chinese Coast Guard has been actively involved in joint exercises and cooperative engagements with other countries. These interactions enhance their operational capabilities, foster diplomatic relationships, and project China’s influence on the international stage.

Implications and Concerns

The increasing capabilities and assertiveness of the Chinese Coast Guard have raised concerns among other countries in the region. Some view their actions as an attempt to change the status quo and assert control over disputed territories. There have been incidents of clashes and tensions arising from encounters between the Chinese Coast Guard and vessels from other countries, particularly in the South China Sea.

The rise of the Chinese Coast Guard also has implications for international maritime law and norms. Their actions, such as the use of force or coercion, have drawn criticism and sparked debates on the interpretation and enforcement of maritime rules. As a result, there is a need for continued dialogue, diplomacy, and adherence to international legal frameworks to prevent further escalation and ensure stability in the region.


The Chinese Coast Guard has emerged as a formidable force in maritime security, with a growing fleet, advanced capabilities, and a resolute commitment to safeguarding China’s territorial claims. Their rise has not only reshaped the balance of power in the region but also sparked concerns and debates on maritime security and international norms.

As the Chinese Coast Guard continues to assert its presence and influence, it is crucial for countries in the region to engage in dialogue, uphold international laws, and seek peaceful resolutions to disputes. Only through cooperation and mutual understanding can stability and security be maintained in the complex maritime environment of the Asia-Pacific region.