BEIJING - Amid tense territorial disputes, China plans to restructure the country's top oceanic administration to enhance maritime law enforcement and better protect and utilize its marine resources.
The move will bring China's maritime law enforcement forces, currently scattered among different ministries, under the unified management of a single administration, according to a report delivered by State Councilor Ma Kai at the annual parliamentary session on Sunday.
The new agency will still be named the National Oceanic Administration (NOA). It will have under its control the coast guard forces of the Public Security Ministry, the fisheries law enforcement command of the Agriculture Ministry and the maritime anti-smuggling police of the General Administration of Customs, Ma said in his report about the plan on the institutional restructuring and functional transformation of the State Council, China's cabinet.
The NOA currently has only one maritime law enforcement department, China Marine Surveillance.
Ma said the move is aimed at solving problems related to inefficient maritime law enforcement, improving the protection and utilization of oceanic resources and better safeguarding the country's maritime rights and interests.
The proposed administration, administered by the Ministry of Land and Resources, will carry out law enforcement activities in the name of China's maritime police bureau and under the operational direction of the Ministry of Public Security, said Ma, who is also the secretary-general of the State Council.
In addition to law enforcement, other functions of the new administration include outlining the oceanic development plan, supervising and managing the use of sea waters, and protecting ocean ecology, Ma said.
A high-level consultative and coordinating body, the National Oceanic Commission, will also be set up to formulate oceanic development strategies and coordinate important oceanic affairs, Ma said.
The tasks of the commission will be carried out by the new NOA.
Experts say the adjustment is a "top design" made at a time when China is striving to build up its maritime strength to boost its marine economy and safeguard its maritime rights amid territorial disputes with neighboring countries.
Restructuring the oceanic administration is in line with China's need for faster economic development, said Wang Xiaopeng, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
China has more than 18,000 kilometers of continental coastline. The total area of its territorial seawaters, continental shelf and exclusive economic zones, recognized under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, covers 3 million square km.
In 2012, China's gross ocean product (GOP) exceeded 5 trillion yuan ($794 billion). China hopes the GOP number could account for 10 percent of the country's gross domestic product by 2015, according to Liu Cigui, director of the NOA.
"The more developed the ocean economy is, the more important it is to safeguard rights at sea," said Wang.
The disputes over China's islands in the South China Sea and East China Sea, as well as some countries' illegal exploitation of resources in China's maritime territories, have made it crucial to integrate the country's maritime law enforcement capacities in order to guarantee territorial sovereignty and economic interests.
"China needs a more powerful, higher-level entity to integrate resource management and provide systematic services, whether it is to develop the maritime economy or safeguard rights and interests at sea," Wang said.
Zhong Wen, a political advisor from south China's island province of Hainan, said China's emphasis on the protection of maritime rights has been lifted to an "unprecedented high."
Zhong said overlapping obligations and management duties among multiple marine authorities have impeded China's oceanic development.
"It is imperative to set up a comprehensive and unified maritime management entity that is highly efficient," Zhong said.
Wang, however, noted that the regrouping is not aimed at quantitative changes, but at forming synergies.
He also pointed out that the move is not to pursue marine hegemony, nor is it meant as a threat to other countries.
"China will seek common interests with other countries," Wang said.