“The coastguard must effectively safeguard our rights, enforce our laws, and resolutely defend our territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests,” Xi said, according to a report on state broadcaster CCTV on Friday.
He told the coastguard officers to “grasp how to properly build and use the maritime policing forces”.
The coastguard is part of the People’s Armed Police paramilitary force, and under the direct command of the Central Military Commission chaired by Xi.
The Chinese leader said the coastguard must crack down on criminal activities at sea and safeguard the country’s maritime economy by establishing a sound mechanism for cooperation and coordination in maritime law enforcement.
“It is necessary to pragmatically carry out foreign exchanges and cooperation in maritime law enforcement and actively participate in international and regional maritime governance,” said Xi, who visited Shanghai this week for the first time in three years.
Xi was shown speaking in a video call with crew members on board two coastguard vessels that have been on a “special escort and security mission” in the East China Sea since last week. The report did not give further details of the mission or their location.
China has a long-running dispute with Japan in the East China Sea over the uninhabited Diaoyu Islands, which are known as the Senkakus in Japan. Beijing also claims almost the entire South China Sea – claims that are contested by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.
Tensions have flared between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea in recent months.
In October, a coastguard vessel collided with Philippine boats near the disputed Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands as they tried to resupply Philippine troops stationed on a grounded warship there.
Meanwhile, Philippine allies the United States and Japan have increased their coastguard presence in the South China Sea, and in June the three coastguards held their first joint exercise near Luzon.
Observers say China is using “grey zone” tactics to deal with its disputes, meaning forces other than the People’s Liberation Army are deployed, including the coastguard, in a bid to take control of the contested areas without starting a military conflict.
In response, the US coastguard has become more active in the region since 2019, when one of its cutters sailed through the Taiwan Strait for the first time and took part in a joint naval exercise with Asean, as well as joint training with the Indonesian and Malaysian coastguards.