China’s Coast Guard Law increases risk of collision in the East Sea
Analysts say that China’s Coast Guard Law is an attempt to set the stage for China's coast guard to increase assertive behavior in the East Sea.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said on January 22 that China’s Coast Guard Law "is in line with international practice". However, it is clear in the first clause that this law protects China's sovereignty, security and maritime interests.
Analysts say that China’s Coast Guard Law is an attempt to set the stage for China's coast guard to increase assertive behavior in the East Sea (internationally known as the South China Sea). Professor Carl Thayer of the University of New South Wales said China is only legalizing what it is doing and says that 'the law allows this'."
Christian Le Miere - founder of Arcipel, a strategic advisory firm based in London and The Hague - said that the law “strikes at the heart” of the US policy of freedom of navigation in the East Sea. “China’s coast guard is already doing most of the heavy lifting in maritime coercion in the near seas, so it’s worth examining the new legislation just passed on this issue,” he said.
A Chinese coast guard vessel. Photo: SCMP
Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University, said the ambiguous language in the law could heighten the risk of miscalculation in the disputed waters.
He commented: “[Though] promulgating a coastguard law is a general practice that other countries have been doing, China's coast guard law contains ambiguous language that begs proper definition, for instance 'waters under national jurisdiction'."
"This also means the law bestows ... the authority to use force to assert those rights against other foreign parties even when operating in the latter's legitimate [exclusive economic zone]," he said.
When China's frontline forces are empowered to decide whether to open fire or not, the lax nature of the provisions of the law can easily be abused and can make the tense situation escalate, Koh said.
Philippine Senator Francis Pangilinan on January 24 urged Manila not to yield to Beijing's recent move to allow the Coast Guard to open fire on foreign ships in waters that Beijing has claimed sovereignty in the East Sea.
Senator Pangilinan said that the Philippines should not be afraid of Chinese law: “We reject and do not recognize foreign laws that encroach on our territorial seas and exclusive economic zone. I firmly believe that we are not a nation of cowards”.
The behavior of the US after the new President takes office
The USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier entered the East Sea on January 23 to promote "freedom of navigation" as a response to China's actions.
This is the first time the US Indo-Pacific Command has sent an aircraft carrier to the East Sea since US President Joe Biden officially took office on January 20. According to the US media, according to the plan, the USS Theodore Roosevelt carrier strike group would conduct offensive exercises and combat cooperation during its time in the East Sea.
USS Theodore Roosevelt carrier strike group in the East Sea. Photo: US Navy
According to the US State Department's announcement on January 24, the carrier strike group is deployed according to the plan to ensure freedom of navigation at sea. “We will stand with friends and allies to advance our shared prosperity, security and values in the Indo-Pacific region -- and that includes deepening our ties with democratic Taiwan,” the State Department said in the statement.
Rear Adm. Doug Verissimo, commander of Carrier Strike Group 9, said these activities were aimed at reassuring allies and partners.
Many are concerned about the possibility that the Biden administration will not be as aggressive with China as the Trump administration. However, senior adviser and Trustee Chair in Chinese Business and Economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), commented that in the final months of his term, the Trump administration announced a series of restrictions and sanctions against China, which will make it more technically and politically difficult for the Biden administration to withdraw.
Meanwhile, Zhiqun Zhu, Chair of Department of International Relations at Bucknell University, USA, said that there is bipartisan consensus in Washington about the need to be stronger with China.
Antony Blinken, the new US Secretary of State, also confirmed that, while he disagreed with Trump's policy towards China, he saw the former president's hardline approach to Beijing was correct.
Avril Haines, Director of National Intelligence (DNI), said that she supported a tough stance towards Beijing, and the American approach to China must fundamentally meet the reality of a China that is particularly assertive and aggressive.
The Washington Post on January 21 wrote that while President Biden was giving his inauguration speech, China announced its decision to punish officials in the previous administration.
According to the newspaper, in doing so, Chinese leaders not only hit on the retired Trump cabinet, but also sought to bully and threaten the upcoming US administration, forcing them to change their policy. This, the Washington Post commented, will inevitably fail for a variety of reasons.
China’s Coast Guard Law took effect only two days after Mr. Biden took office as US President.