China says new Coast Guard law not a threat of war

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 1) — The Chinese embassy in Manila brushed aside claims that China’s new law, which authorizes its coast guard to fire on foreign vessels entering contested waters, is a threat of war.

The embassy on Monday said the measure is “a normal domestic legislative activity of China” and conforms to international conventions and practices. It added that the law "doesn't specifically target any certain country” and bears no change in China’s maritime policy.

The statement came days after the government filed a diplomatic protest against China, saying its new law is “a verbal threat of war” to any country that defies it. Malacañang also previously asked China to refrain from any use of force that could spark tension, and instead adhere to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

“Enacting such a coast guard law is not unique to China, but a sovereign right to all,” the embassy said. “Many countries have enacted similar legislation. It is the Philippine Coast Guard Law of 2009 that established the PCG as an armed and uniformed service. None of these laws have been seen as a threat of war.”

China maintained it is committed to upholding peace in the South China Sea. The East Asian giant is negotiating with other claimant Southeast Asian nations for a Code of Conduct, which will determine actions parties can take in disputed waters.

The embassy said the criticisms were born out of misinterpretation of the legislation, as it also denounced what it called as false accusations against China.

“Some forces in the Philippines, either for their own political interests or out of prejudice toward China, have not only misinterpreted China's normal legislation, but also fabricated and spread relentlessly fake news,” it said.

It pointed out recent reports of the China Coast Guard allegedly harassing Filipino fishermen, which it claimed as untrue.

READ: Filipino fisherman recalls being blocked by China Coast Guard ship

“They have also gone as far as to sensationalize the entry of a Chinese scientific survey ship into Philippine waters as an ‘intrusion,’” it added.

According to reports, a Chinese survey ship was spotted off the coast of Bato, Catanduanes since Jan. 28 and was said to be operating without permit. The embassy, however, explained that the vessel is only seeking humanitarian shelter in Philippine waters due to unfavorable weather and sea conditions in the Pacific, where they are scheduled to conduct research mission.

A maritime law expert earlier warned of a possibility of China's increased pace in asserting its sweeping claims over the South China Sea. Despite the 2016 arbitral ruling which recognized Manila's sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone that Beijing contests, the expert said China continued to carry out law enforcement patrols in the West Philippine Sea. He also urged the national government to join forces with allies in pushing back against the new Coast Guard Law, which he said could possibly make way for acts of aggression.