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China Leashes the Nine Dragons

China’s “nine dragons”—the array of government departments, police forces, and surveillance agencies that are responsible for maritime policies—operate autonomously from each other, which often results in a disjointed approach to sensitive ocean issues. But not for much longer: Beijing is leashing the dragons and bringing them under the control of one overarching bureaucracy. The FT reports:

The maritime policing restructuring will see the combination of the Maritime Surveillance, the Fisheries Administration, the anti-smuggling force of the China Customs and the maritime border control forces of the Ministry of public security into a new “China maritime police”.

The move comes after the party leadership pledged late last year to enhance the safeguarding of China’s maritime interests and build the country into a maritime power.

Ordinarily a bureaucratic shake up like this isn’t very exciting news. But the agencies in question have a history of trying to outdo one another in a competition for funding and influence that frequently brings them into conflict with foreign navies and fishing fleets, thereby dragging Beijing into diplomatic disputes and tussles.

Whether bringing the nine dragons under the control of a bigger, more powerful dragon will reduce or increase tension over maritime issues between China and its neighbors is difficult to say. It might discourage the various agencies from competing with one another. Then again it might give more power and resources to Chinese hawks who want to provoke disputes with neighboring countries.

One thing is for certain: Beijing is making a concerted effort to streamline and organize its maritime policy-making. Asia’s Game of Thrones has become a high stakes competition on the high seas, and China is urgently upgrading its civilian and military naval forces to compete with the neighbors on a number of fronts.

[Dragon image courtesy Shutterstock]

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