China on January 22 passed a law to be enforced February 1 onwards, elaborating the specific conditions under which the Chinese coast guard authorised to use weapons on foreign vessels.
The law has raised several concerns globally regarding the potential raise the risk of maritime incidents and escalation.
US has also voiced concerns regarding the law stating that it may ‘escalate the ongoing territorial and maritime disputes’ in the area and can invoke unlawful claims.
China has been engaged in territorial disputes in both the South China Sea and East China Sea regions, Beijing having built-up and militarised multiple islands and reefs in the area.
Both these areas are supposedly rich in minerals, oil and other natural resources that are essential for global trade.
China’s maritime law enforcement system has also long suffered due to the problems of institutional balkanisation and deficiency of a strong legal foundations.
Following the merge of four of its major maritime law enforcement agencies into a unified coast guard in 2013, the China Coast Guard (CCG) had to obtain its legal foundation from precedents set for China Marine Surveillance, Maritime Police, Fishery Law Enforcement, and Anti-Smuggling Police respectively.
This legal base also included ‘Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Administration of Sea Areas’, ‘Fisheries Law of the People’s Republic of China’, and ‘Public Security Administration Punishment Law of the People’s Republic of China’, which led to an absence of a standardised procedure to direct the coast guard’s functions.
The Philippine artisanal fishermen’s association Pamalakaya has called upon UN’s intervention declaring China’s new coast guard law ‘null & void’, stating that Beijing’s new rules of engagement for the agency are incompatible with the international law.
The new law allows China Coast guard to ‘take all necessary measures, including the use of weapons, when national sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction are being illegally infringed upon by foreign organisations or individuals at sea.’
China at the moment claims almost all of South China Sea, with counterclaims of Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan over the region.
The amendment to the maritime law could result in the areas around the contested waters become choppy.
“We are specifically concerned by language in the law that expressly ties the potential use of force, including armed force by the China Coast Guard, to the enforcement of China’s claims in ongoing territorial and maritime disputes in the East and South China Seas.”
Beijing denies that the Coast Guard Law would influence its relations with the Philippines or artisanal fishermen. China’s motive to clarify and standardise the coast guard operations should be expressed.