Reuters – From harassing Filipino fishing boats and monitoring oil exploration off Vietnam to playing cat-and-mouse with the Japanese coastguard, China 's expanding fleet of civilian patrol vessels have become the enforcers in disputed Asian waters.
The ships of the recently unified Chinese coastguard are a fixture around the disputed islands and shoals of the South and East China Seas. While the ships don't have the weaponry of military vessels, thus reducing the risk a confrontation could get out of control, they still represent a potent show of sovereignty.
The coastguard is funded by China 's State Oceanic Administration, a civilian body, although one U.S. naval officer and security experts said it coordinates its operations with the People's Liberation Army (PLA).
It includes the 200-strong China Marine Surveillance fleet and is seen as another example of how hard it is to get a true picture of China 's defence-related spending, the experts added.
China said this week it would increase military spending by 12.2 percent to $131.5 billion in 2014 after a 10.7 percent hike last year.
Much spending likely takes place outside the defence budget, however, and many experts estimate real outlays are close to $200 billion, second only to Washington. The U.S. Defense Department's base budget for fiscal 2014 is $526.8 billion.
Neither the budget for the marine surveillance fleet, which includes decommissioned warships, nor the overall coastguard is known.