• Eyal Pinko

China Gives Extensive Powers to the Coast Guard

In November 2020, China decided to give its Coast Guard more extensive powers, and under the new law, the Coast Guard vessels would be allowed to open fire on foreign ships and take all measures at their disposal to prevent damage to Chinese infrastructure and prevent invasion from the sea.


China operates three maritime forces, operating at different ranges from the coast as part of three different defense layers. Their purpose is to create full control over ranges of up to 1000 nautical miles from the Chinese coast.

Full control of these ranges means building a reliable and real-time maritime picture of all vessels operating in these ranges and the ability to prevent an opponent from maneuver and operating in the defense layers.

The ability to prevent an opponent's operation in these defense layers include, on the one hand, the power to prevent the opponent from maneuvering to the protected areas (Anti-Access), and on the other hand, the ability to prevent the opponent from operating his weapon systems and operational capabilities if he manages to infiltrate the protected area.

The Chinese maritime forces implementing the defense strategy include the Chinese Navy, the Coast Guard, and the fishermen's militias.

Fishermen's militias (maritime militia) play a crucial role in the Chinese maritime strategy. The militias are composed of fishers who operate their vessels, equipped, trained, and supervised by the Chinese Navy. This force, asymmetrical in nature, is used by China primarily to implement its strategy in the South China Sea.

The maritime militia's primary functions are to declare China's independence regularly, conduct intelligence patrols and operations, cooperate with the Coast Guard and assist in its missions, civilian search and rescue missions, and support regular Chinese naval operations, including security missions and Chinese island security missions.

The maritime militia which operates in blue water, far from the Chinese coast, has another significant role in halting and preventing the US Navy's freedom of operations in the South China Sea.

Running militias is part of China's grand-strategy, devised by Mao Chetong even before the communist revolution of 1949, which sees the people as part of an asymmetric warrior fighting force ("People's War"), which may respond to a possible invasion. Chinese militia operatives come from all parts of the Chinese society and are organized as organizations in China's various provinces up to the national level. Some estimate that two to three percent of the total Chinese defense budget is devoted to militias force build-up and operation.

The Chinese maritime militia is considered the essential militia in China and was established in the early 1950s to be an asymmetric armed force to defend against invasion from Taiwan's direction. The government sees the Chinese maritime militia as a significant, inexpensive force multiplier, which will pose an operational, political, and legal challenge for China's rivals, who may act against it at sea.

The maritime militia, which operates over a thousand vessels of various designs and dimensions, operates in a coordinated hierarchical operating concept in two different commands, operating mainly in ranges very far from the Chinese coast.

In the areas closer to the coast, there is a maritime police force, the Coast Guard, which has various functions including maintaining order, preventing crime, preventing illegal fishing, preventing smuggling, fighting as an additional line of defense to deplete the US naval forces and preventing the invasion of China from the sea. The Coast Guard is part of China's police forces but operates on the same side as the Chinese Navy: coordination, power building, training, and joint operational activities.

In November 2020, China decided to give its Coast Guard more extensive powers, and under the new law, the Coast Guard vessels would be allowed to open fire on foreign ships and take all measures at their disposal to prevent damage to Chinese infrastructure and prevent invasion from the sea.

The Chinese law also allowed the Coast Guard to stop foreign vessels in the middle of the ocean and board them to inspect them. The new Chinese law allows Coast Guard vessels to open fire and stop foreign ships in all of China's sea areas, including its exclusive economic waters and the South China Sea.

To this day, these have been the powers of the Chinese Navy alone.

This move, which is expected to strengthen China's capabilities in protecting its maritime territory and also allow it to use foreign Coast Guard vessels to stop foreign ships for inspection or open fire against them, could ignite the flames in areas of tension in the South China Sea against US forces and the region. (Such as Taiwan, Singapore, India, Thailand, and the like).

Beyond that, granting powers to the Coast Guard of opening fire and stopping foreign vessels indicates the importance and Chinese strategic conception of using asymmetric forces (fishing militias and coastguards) against large fleets (such as the US, Australian, Indian and Japanese fleets) combined with the operation of a large and regular navy, which has an extensive and impressive fighting ability.

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