For the first time, China has explicitly granted permission to its coast guard to fire on foreign vessels – a move that could see contested waters around the nation become more volatile.
According to state media reports, China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress standing committee, passed the Coast Guard Law overnight.
Draft wording in a bill published earlier authorises the coast guard to employ “all necessary means” to stop or prevent threats from foreign vessels, with the agency empowered to “carry out defence operations” under the orders of the Central Military Commission.
The bill specifies which different type of weapon – ship-mounted, airborne or handheld – can be used under certain circumstances.
China has long had maritime sovereignty disputes with Japan in the East China Sea and with a number of southeast Asian countries in the South China Sea, often sending its coast guard to chase away fishing vessels from other countries.
Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters they “have conveyed our interest and concern to the other side” regarding the new law, calling Beijing’s continued forays “extremely regrettable”.
The new bill also gives coast guard personnel the green light to demolish structures built on Chinese-claimed reefs by other countries, and to board and inspect any foreign vessels in Chinese-claimed waters.
Temporary exclusion zones can be created “as needed” by the coast guard to stop other vessels and personnel from entering.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, dismissed concerns of the law, insisting it was in line with international practices.
According to the first article of the bill, it’s needed to safeguard China’s sovereignty, security and maritime rights.
President Xi Jinping has signed the presidential orders, with the law set to go into effect on February 1.