Last month, China enacted legislation that empowers its coast guard, turning it into a virtual second navy. Beijing insists that new capabilities are needed to protect national territory and interests. From any other perspective, the changes look like intimidation.

Japan must respond with more than diplomatic protests. The government of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga must blunt the Chinese move while demonstrating its understanding of the risks involved. It must protect Japanese interests while working to set up communications mechanisms and protocols to lessen the chances of confrontation, crisis and escalation.

China’s coast guard was originally a branch of the People’s Armed Police (PAP). In 2013, it became an independent civilian organization and its status was upgraded yet again in 2018 when it was transferred back to the PAP and made a military suborganization under the Central Military Commission. At that time, the China Coast Guard was already, according to the United States Department of Defense, "by far the largest coast guard force in the world."