China’s National People’s Congress has proposed a new law that would authorize the Coast Guard to use weapons against foreign ships involved in illegal activities in its waters.
The coast guard would be authorized to use weapons “in the case of unlawful infringement by a national organization or individual,” as per the document released by the NCP to seek public comments on the draft law.
The law will allow the use of handheld weapons against vessels deemed to have violated China’s sovereignty, either in emergencies or if warnings are not heeded.
It further approves “all necessary measures to stop the infringement and eliminate the danger on the spot”. The legislation will let coast guard vessels “under attack” respond with shipborne or airborne weapons.
It also allows other measures, such as detention and towing, to be taken against foreign vessels considered to have illegally entered Chinese waters, as per the report in Nikkei Asia.
As per the document, the coast guard’s responsibilities include protecting China’s marine resources and fishing industry. The revised duties of the coast guard will include taking necessary steps to protect strategic islands, exclusive economic zones, and artificial islands.
Beijing’s move has raised concern for both Japan and the US, with the heightened risk of clash in the disputed waters. For Japan, the risk of a clash is around the Senkaku Islands, which Beijing claims as part of its territory while they are administered by Tokyo.
The new law may target Japanese vessels navigating around the uninhabited islets. The tiny islands in the East China Sea are called Diaoyu by Beijing. This may as well result in more coast guard vessels entering Japan’s territorial waters, ostensibly to protect Chinese fishing boats that operate around the Senkakus.
Tokyo is watching the developments regarding China’s coast guard and relevant agencies are gathering information, as per Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato.
Kato said: “Under our policy to adamantly defend our territory, lives, and property of the Japanese citizens including the Japanese fishing vessels, we will take all possible measures and monitor the situation around Senkaku Islands and gather information by coordinating with related ministries.”
A Chinese ship was spotted in the so-called contiguous zone outside Japanese waters on Thursday, the government had said, adding that Chinese vessels had now been observed near the isles for 285 days this year and also for the 59th day in a row.
With this, the Chinese Coast Guard broke the record for the number of days spent in one calendar year near the Senkaku Islands, as per a report in Stars and Stripes.
China has been accusing the United States of infringing on its sovereignty by sending naval vessels through contested waters. Since the US considers the South China Sea open to the international passage, these freedom-of-navigation operations challenge Chinese claims.
The US Navy regularly sends its vessels within 12 nautical miles of the Spratly and Paracel islands, which China claims as territorial waters.
In 2019, when USS McCampbell had sailed through the Paracel Islands, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang had said: “[The U.S.] violated Chinese laws and relevant international laws, infringed upon China’s sovereignty, and undermined peace, security, and order of the relevant waters”.
Following the revised Coast Guard law proposal, the United States has reiterated that the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, which requires the U.S. to defend Japan, applies to the uninhabited Senkakus.
Reports suggest that legislation has been proposed after US national security adviser Robert O’Brien announced that the U.S. Coast Guard is strategically home-porting its newest fast-response Coast Guard cutters in the Western Pacific.
The Chinese Congress is accepting public comments on draft till 3 December, measure is expected to pass at the earliest following the deliberations. Chinese leadership has been pushing for the integration of China’s coast guard, which is now commanded by a former naval officer, with the navy of the People’s Liberation Army.
China has the world’s largest coast guard vessels with 10,000-ton-plus ships equipped with 76-millimeter guns and 130 vessels, which is double the patrol ships in Japan’s Coast Guard.