The following is an excerpt from the latest feature by CSIS’s ChinaPower project.
Maritime disputes in the South China Sea present an array of potential flashpoints between countries with overlapping claims. In recent years, many of these countries have mobilized government vessels traditionally used for maritime law enforcement to reinforce their territorial claims. Key among these states is China, which has actively employed its coast guard and other maritime law enforcement agencies to project power and assert sovereignty throughout the South China Sea. ChinaPower has developed an interactive timeline that traces major maritime law enforcement incidents in the South China Sea from 2010 to the present day. Below are examples of key dates on the timeline. Explore the full interactive on ChinaPower.
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Major incidents are defined as events where a state’s coast guard, navy (when acting in a law enforcement capacity), or other government agency used coercive measures beyond routine maritime law enforcement actions.
ChinaPower’s data shows that of the 45 major incidents identified in the South China Sea between 2010 and 2016, at least one China Coast Guard (or other Chinese maritime law enforcement) vessel was involved in 68 percent of incidents. Four additional incidents involved a Chinese naval vessel acting in a maritime law enforcement capacity, raising that number to 78 percent.
Budget and Tonnage
The establishment of a unified coast guard has corresponded with a substantial increase in Chinese government spending. Estimates from a forthcoming article in the Naval War College Review show that China has averaged an annual coast guard budget of $1.74 billion over the past five years. By comparison, Japan is estimated to have spent $1.5 billion per year while the average yearly budget of Vietnam and the Philippines is between $100 million and $200 million over the same period. At present, China possesses the world’s largest coast guard fleet. The Office of Naval Intelligence notes that China’s coast guard has some 205 vessels, including 95 vessels that displace over 1000 tons.
Explore the rest of this feature at ChinaPower.