BEIJING -- China will further advance its coast guard's integration with the military by allowing joint drills and merged operations at wartime, fortifying the country's aggressive maritime activity in the East and South China seas.
The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress on Saturday approved the changes by revising the law governing the People's Armed Police Force, the Xinhua News Agency reported. This marks the first revisions to the law in 11 years.
Through the integration, President Xi Jinping's leadership seeks to build a defense network that can seamlessly handle everything from sea patrols to military operations. The aim is to expand its military clout in the region with eye on rivalry with the U.S. for maritime supremacy.
The revised law brings the People's Armed Police Force under the command of the Central Military Commission, led by Xi, or five theater commands, during wartime. The same rule applies to the coast guard, which is part of the People's Armed Police Force.
The revision enables the army and the coast guard to move together if Xi's leadership determines that a situation constitutes wartime in the East China Sea or South China Sea. The coast guard will also be able to participate in military operations. Even in normal times, the coast guard can conduct training, exercises and emergency rescue with the military.
The coast guard was incorporated into the military police under the command of the Central Military Commission in July 2018, but this marks the first time the system and operation were stipulated in a law.
The law also spells out that the "protection of interests at sea and law enforcement" as a mission of the People's Armed Police Force. With an estimated 600,000 to 700,000 personnel, the People's Armed Police Force has mostly handled onshore missions such as maintaining security and guarding important infrastructure. China may increase the number of maritime security personnel.
The legal changes were not included in a legislative plan the National People's Congress issued in December. The need to pressure Taiwan in light of President Tsai Ing-wen's overwhelming reelection victory in January could have quickly put the revisions on the agenda. Tsai has been stepping up her criticism of Beijing and moving to tighten ties with Washington.
The changes also come at a time Chinese coast guard vessels are repeating incursions into Japanese waters near the Senkaku Islands, which are administered by Japan but claimed by China as the Diaoyu. Chinese coast guard ships entered the contiguous zone for 68 consecutive days as of Saturday.
The Japan Coast Guard are allowed to carry weapons or conduct searches under certain conditions, but incursions by heavily armed Chinese coast guard ships in the area would pose a more serious threat.