Philippines protests new China coast guard law

Patricia Lourdes Viray - Philstar.com
Philippines protests new China coast guard law
A Philippine coast guard ship sails past a Chinese coast guard ship during an joint search and rescue exercise between Philippine and US coastguards near Scarborough or Panatag shoal, May 2019.
AFP / Ted Aljibe

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 5:52 p.m.) — The Philippines had filed a diplomatic protest against China's new law allowing its coast guard to fire at foreign vessels.

After saying it's "none of our business," Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said he fired a diplomatic protest "after reflection."

"While enacting law is a sovereign prerogative, this one—given the area involved or for that matter the open South China Sea—is a verbal threat of war to any country that defies the law; which, if unchallenged, is submission to it.," Locsin tweeted Wednesday afternoon.

China's top legislature adopted the new coast guard law last January 22, according to a report from Chinese state media Xinhua.

Li Zhanshu, chairman of the National People's Congress standing committee, earlier said the coast guard law "provides legal guarantees for effectively safeguarding national sovereignty, security and maritime rights and interests."

It will take effect on February 2.

According to a report from Reuters, the bill allows the Chinese coast guard to demolish other countries' structures Chinese-claimed reefs.

Beijing has installed military outposts on its "big three" islands -- Fiery Cross, Mischief ans Subi Reefs -- in the South China Sea, which are also being claimed by the Philippines.

The new law also allows Chinese coast guard personnel to inspect foreign vessels in Chinese-claimed waters, including the West Philippine Sea.

The West Philippine Sea is the portion of the South China Sea within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

China continues to ignore the 2016 ruling of a United Nations-backed tribunal that invalidated its historic nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea.

Responding to concerns on the new law, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying insisted that it is consistent with international practices.

“We will continue to work with relevant countries to properly resolve contradictions and differences through dialogue and consultation to ensure regional peace and stability,” Chunying said at a press briefing on January 22.

Strong response needed

Maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal earlier suggested that the Philippines and other South China Sea claimants should send a strong message to Beijing's latest moves in the contested waterway.

"Any use of force should be considered as a hostile act or an act of aggression. That should be the clear message of Southeast Asian states," Batongbacal said in an interview with ANC's "Matters of Fact" last Tuesday.

Senators have also raised concern over China's coast guard law.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan said the Philippines should not be intimidated by foreign laws that "encroach on our territorial seas and exclusive economic zone."

Sen. Richard Gordon, meanwhile, called on the Locsin to seek for an explanation from Beijing following the recent visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in the country.

"[Are we] just going to turn the other cheek or just quietly accept what is? [The law] is a creeping threat that I think can escalate at any time," Gordon said. 

— With reports from Bella Perez-Rubio, Christian Deiparine

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