With new “China Coast Guard” ships entering service at regular intervals, it is easy to forget that the China Coast Guard as an organization does not yet exist in any complete sense. Legislation passed in March 2013 to integrate the ranks (duiwu) of four maritime law enforcement agencies into a new China Coast Guard within a re-constituted State Oceanic Administration (SOA) was a pledge of commitment rather than a plan of action. Many, many difficult decisions would have to be made, countless details to be fleshed out. That responsibility would largely fall on Meng Hongwei, the first head of the China Coast Guard, and Liu Cigui, Director of SOA and the China Coast Guard’s first political commissar.
Four months later, the State Council released a redacted version of the SOA reorganization plan (colloquially called the Sanding Fangan), a document adumbrating the planned structure of the two organizations. In some areas the Sanding Fangan was exquisitely precise: The three regional SOA offices and their China Coast Guard units would have exactly 16,296 billets. In many other respects, it was strikingly vague.