China is placing its coast guard under military command. Experts say the move is a warning to other countries -- including the United States -- against interfering with its control over the disputed South China Sea.
The order goes into effect July 1. The state-run news website Global Times said the move will enable the coast guard to take a bigger part in emergencies and crises including war.
Andrew Yang is secretary-general of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies in Taiwan. He said the government is acting to increase its presence in the sea. But he said officials are also sending a message that they are firm about protecting their territorial honor. And, he said, the U.S. will pay attention to that message.
Stronger coast guard under military control
The Global Times reported that China’s Central Military Commission will supervise the coast guard, to let it “be more involved in military drills and daily exercises” with the Chinese navy. The Times said the information came from a Chinese military expert.
China’s coast guard has 164 ships and 16,300 service members. Under the military, coast guard ships will be armed with more powerful cannons. And their crews will also carry firearms.
News media in Asia reported that the Chinese coast guard and navy began guarding the waters near the Paracel Islands last month.
Warnings to Southeast Asia, United States
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam all have claims in the South China Sea. The area is rich with fisheries, oil and natural gas.
China claims to own about 90 percent of the disputed area. It has built military structures on several small islands. Its coast guard has also sailed well into the water near Indonesia to protect its fishing boats.
The Global Times said China's coast guard will not be a threat to other countries if “they don't provoke China's sovereignty and maritime rights.”
Jonathan Spangler is director of the South China Sea Think Tank in Taiwan. He said, “Other countries will see this development as something they need to respond to in terms of restructuring their own coast guards.”
The Southeast Asian nations lack China’s firepower. But Vietnam and the Philippines have turned in the past to the U.S. for defense.
The U.S. has no claim in the area, but it considers the South China Sea an international waterway. The U.S. Navy has sailed ships through the area as part of its “freedom of navigation operations.” Earlier this month, the U.S. also flew bomber airplanes over the sea.
Yun Sun is an East Asia expert with the Stimson Center in Washington. She said the Chinese coast guard as a military group “strengthens the perception and reality of ‘militarization’” of the sea. She added that it would also strengthen the coast guard's ability against “U.S. freedom of navigation operations.”
I’m Jonathan Evans.
Ralph Jennings reported this story for VOA News. Hai Do adapted the story for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
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Words in This Story
provoke - v. to cause (a person, a country) to become angry or to take action
sovereignty - n. a country's independent authority and the right to govern itself
maritime - adj. of or relating to the sea
respond - v. to do something as a reaction
navigation - n. the act of moving a boat or ship over an area of water
perception - n. the way you think and understand about something