25 April 2010

CMSI ‘Red Book’ #5: “Five Dragons Stirring Up the Sea: Challenge and Opportunity in China’s Improving Maritime Enforcement Capabilities”

Lyle J. Goldstein, Five Dragons Stirring Up the Sea: Challenge and Opportunity in China’s Improving Maritime Enforcement Capabilities, Naval War College China Maritime Study 5 (April 2010).

Today, China remains relatively weak in the crucially important middle domain of maritime power, that between commercial prowess and hard military power, which is concerned with maritime governance—enforcing a nation’s own laws and ensuring “good order” off its coasts. Despite major improvements over the last decade, China’s maritime enforcement authorities remain balkanized and relatively weak—described in a derogatory fashion by many Chinese experts as so many “dragons stirring up the sea.” In Northeast Asia, China’s weak maritime enforcement capacities are the exception, especially when compared to the coast guard capacities of Japan (or, outside the region, of the United States). Indeed, Japan’s coast guard was recently described as almost, if not quite, a second navy for Tokyo.

China’s relative weakness in this area is a mystery, one that forms the central research question of the present study. This condition of relative weakness is outlined in the monograph’s first part. The second part describes and analyzes the current situation of each of the five most important bureaucratic agencies responsible for maritime enforcement and governance in China today. The third part of this study raises the question of what relationships these entities, and any future unified Chinese coast guard, would have with the Chinese navy. Before turning to implications and prospects, the fourth delves into a variety of macro explanations for the weakness of China’s coast guard entities today. Part five analyzes the possibilities for future maritime security cooperation, by looking closely at U.S.-China civil maritime engagement between coast guard entities over the last decade. The final part elaborates on three possible strategic implications of enhanced Chinese coast guard capabilities. This study, as a whole, draws on hundreds of Chinese language sources, interviews in China, and, especially, a highly detailed and remarkably candid 2007 survey by Professor He Zhonglong and three other faculty members at the Border Guards Maritime Police Academy in Ningbo.

The continuing evolution of Chinese coast guard entities into more coherent and effective agents of maritime governance presents both a challenge and an opportunity for security and stability in East Asia. Enlarged capacities will naturally result in more stringent enforcement of China’s maritime claims vis-à-vis its many neighbors. However, a more benign potential result is that enhanced Chinese capacities in maritime governance may result in greater willingness by Beijing to support global maritime safety and security norms as a full-fledged and vital “maritime stakeholder.”