The Militarization of China’s Maritime Surveillance Fleet

The Diplomat’s J. Michael Cole writes that amid escalating tensions in the East China Sea and South China Sea, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has shifted nearly a dozen decommissioned warships to China’s maritime surveillance agency:

Like Japan, China has so far refrained from sending its navy ships into contested areas to avoid escalation.

However, to some observers, the addition of refurbished warships to the civilian agency, which falls under the State Oceanic Administration, could be a worrying sign of militarization, all the more so as there are signs indicating that Beijing is losing patience and is ready to enter a new, perhaps more belligerent phase, in various territorial disputes.

In an interview with Chinese media published on December 29, Major General Luo Yuan, deputy secretary general of the China Society of Military Science and a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), made it clear that China’s so-called “self-restraint” might not last much longer.

Prior to 2012, China’s policy on maritime disputes was one of self-restraint and shelving disputes while seeking common development, Luo said. However, the countries concerned have not put disputes aside and instead chose to highlight the controversies through unilateral “anti-Chinese” acts and provocative actions, he said, directly mentioning the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands and Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island).

Yu Zhirong of the government’s Research Centre for Chinese Marine Development also wrote that “Chinese maritime surveillance authorities will build and buy many ships and planes in the future with strong capabilities and advanced equipment,” according to Channel News Asia.