EDITORIAL - Beyond condemnation

The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL - Beyond condemnation

Following up on their summit last year, the Group of Seven leading industrialized democracies reaffirmed over the weekend that they did not recognize China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea. Beyond expressions of concern and condemnation over China’s “intimidation activities,” the G7 can spearhead efforts to lay down clear global rules on the use of the coast guard and maritime militia.

Coast guards in most countries including the Philippines are civilian in nature. China, pursuing gray zone tactics to enforce its maritime claims, has placed its coast guard under its military commission and has authorized it to engage in law enforcement and combat operations.

China has used militia vessels backed by its coast guard to organize “swarms” of up to 200 vessels that look like a maritime “great wall” to intimidate and keep out foreign vessels from waters over which it has no legitimate claim based on international rules.

“We reaffirm that there is no legal basis for China’s expansive maritime claims in the South China Sea, and we oppose China’s militarization, and coercive and intimidation activities in the South China Sea,” the G7 declared in its latest communiqué following its summit in Italy. The G7 again cited the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which invalidated China’s claim over nearly the entire South China Sea.

The arbitral award, based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to which both the Philippines and China are signatories, is “legally binding upon the parties to those proceedings,” the G7 reiterated. China says it did not participate in the proceedings and has refused to recognize the ruling, which defined the Philippines’ maritime economic and sovereign rights within its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, as provided under UNCLOS.

Apart from reiterating recognition of the ruling, the G7 communiqué expressed “serious concern” over China’s “increasing use” of water cannons and dangerous maneuvers against Philippine vessels. The water cannons, with their blasts so powerful they have damaged Philippine vessels and injured people, are seen as a way of skirting the classification of such aggression as an armed attack, which could warrant an armed response.

“We continue opposing China’s dangerous use of coast guard and maritime militia in the South China Sea and its repeated obstruction of countries’ high seas freedom of navigation,” the G7 declared, also reiterating “strong opposition to any unilateral attempt to change the status quo by force or coercion” in the East and South China Seas.

The G7 consists of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. If forging a global common ground on the nature and use of coast guards is not possible, the G7 should ramp up strategies to counter China’s gray zone tactics in enforcing its invalidated maritime claims. Hybrid warfare calls for hybrid responses.

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