IN his final policy address before retiring, China’s then leader Hu Jintao said last November that the country should build itself up as a “maritime power”. His successor, Xi Jinping, who took over the last of Mr Hu’s remaining titles on March 14th, appears eager to make this happen. On the same day China’s legislature approved steps to turn competing civilian agencies into a unified coastguard. Countries nearby may have mixed feelings.
Maritime law-enforcement efforts have long been so divided among rival bureaucracies and so poorly co-ordinated that even in the official media they have been derided as “nine dragons stirring up the sea”, a reference to the offspring of the Dragon King in Chinese legend. In fact, five agencies have law-enforcement powers in waters that China claims (see table). But their overlapping functions are considered a waste of resources, as well as sometimes causing diplomatic problems through their apparent lack of co-ordination. In seas roiled by competing territorial claims, China wants an agency that can assert more effectively what it sees as its rights. Many officials view the coastguards of America and Japan as models.