The Chinese coast guard, already the largest in the world, is set to expand even further with the addition of more than 20 warships, according to a Japanese news agency.
The addition of 22 former navy corvettes to China’s coast guard will give it more than 150 patrol vessels with a displacement of 1,000 tons or more, more than double the Japan Coast Guard’s 70 large vessels, Kyodo News reported Wednesday.
The Chinese coast guard’s “rapid expansion and modernization has made it the largest maritime law enforcement fleet in the world,” the U.S. Defense Department said in a 2022 report to Congress. “Its newer vessels are larger and more capable than older vessels, allowing them to operate further offshore and remain on station longer.”
In 2021, China’s coast guard operated approximately 132 vessels with a displacement of 1,000 tons or more, according to a December 2021 report from the Japan Coast Guard. That same year, Beijing began transferring 22 Type 056 corvettes from its navy to its coast guard, according to the DOD report.
The transfer of those ships and their subsequent refits are nearly complete, Kyodo reported, citing an unnamed source.
Beijing also operates about 570 smaller vessels, including regional and coastal patrol craft, with displacements between 100 and 999 tons, according to the DOD report.
The expansion comes two years after China revised its laws to allow its coast guard to fire on foreign vessels in waters claimed by Beijing.
China’s coast guard, along with its navy and maritime militia, are routinely involved in encounters between U.S., Japanese and other nations’ vessels in the South China and East China seas and near contested island chains such as the Senkaku, Paracel and Spratly island groups.
Tokyo on Monday lodged complaints with Beijing after four Chinese coast guard ships followed Japanese fishing vessels past the 12-mile territorial limit around the Senkakus. The incident was the second of its kind since Jan. 10.
The Senkakus are a group of small, uninhabited rocks and islets about 280 miles west of Okinawa and 105 miles northeast of Taiwan. Officially administered by Japan, they are also claimed by China and Taiwan.
The U.S. does not take a position on the sovereignty of the Senkakus but does recognize Japan’s administration over them, according to the DOD report.
In response to increased Chinese activity in the region, Japan is also looking to strengthen its coast guard. Tokyo plans to purchase, among other assets, a 6,000-ton vessel and two 3,500-ton vessels in fiscal 2023.
One vessel is expected to be delivered this year, while the remaining purchases will be delivered in fiscal 2025 or 2026, according to budget documents posted Dec. 23 by the Japan Coast Guard.
“Protecting the territories, waters and air of our country is our top priority,” Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Dec. 16 during a Cabinet meeting. “The situation around the waters of our country is getting more tense; it is necessary to strengthen the joint capabilities with the [Japan Self-Defense Forces] and other countries and strengthen the system of the Coast Guard.”