China is expected to use its coastguard fleet to shore up its paramilitary presence in the disputed South China Sea, using the personnel to strengthen law enforcement and even deter activities by other claimants, analysts said.

China has bolstered the coastguard’s role in the last year, bringing it under the control of the Central Military Commission and ordering it to be better prepared for trouble in the contested waters.

Addressing coastguard officers over the Lunar New Year, CMC vice-chairman Xu Qiliang said all personnel should be well prepared for different situations in the East China Sea – where China has competing claims with Japan – and the South China Sea.

Xu also urged them to “staunchly safeguard” China’s maritime rights and interests.

Adam Ni, a China researcher at Macquarie University in Sydney, said the China Coast Guard was “playing a key role in China’s unsettled sovereignty disputes by patrolling disputed waters to enforce China’s maritime claims”.

“[This] frees up the [People’s Liberation Army] Navy for power projection farther and farther from Chinese shores,” Ni said.

Read more: https://www.scmp.com/news/china/military/article/2185491/china-coast-guard-heads-front-line-enforce-beijings-south-china