In a potentially dangerous move, the Chinese National People’s Congress standing committee passed a law on Friday, authorising the Chinese Coast Guard to open fire on foreign vessels.
The new Coast Guard law “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” and to create temporary exclusion zones “as needed” to stop other vessels and personnel from entering. The law therefore dramatically increases the possibility of an ared confrontation between China and the navey’s of other countries in the region and those committed to the region’s stability, such as the US, UK, Australia and India. The UK ‘Carrier Strike Group’, centred around HMS Queen Elizabeth, is due to deploy to the area this year.
The 'Chinese People's Armed Forces Coast Guard Corps' is the world's largest coast guard and, as a branch of the Chinese armed Forces is, in effect, a navy dressed as a law enforcement organisation. It is already active in the vicinity of uninhabited East China Sea islands controlled by Japan but claimed by Beijing, as well as in the South China Sea, which China claims virtually in its entirety.
A spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry said on Friday that the new law “is in line with international practices”. Indeed, such laws are in keeping with international practices if they are restricted to a coastal State’s own waters. In this case, however, the law allows the Chinese Coast Guard to open fire upon vessels in waters that the United Nations has determined do not belong to China.
Beijing has what is known as an 'Irredentist policy'. In other words, it claims any territory or seas that it has ever controlled, throughout history, as its own. Such claims mean that it considers the Philippines, Japan. Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and other countries, and their waters, to be its own.