New China coast guard law ‘alarming,’ ‘very irresponsible,’ AFP chief says

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 9) — The new armed forces chief described as “alarming” and “very irresponsible” China’s new law that allows its coast guard to fire at foreign vessels entering disputed waters in the South China Sea.

“Iyong pronouncement ng China na their coast guard can open fire on people intruding into the territory — it is very alarming po iyan. I should say it is a very irresponsible statement dahil ang ating kababayan ay hindi pumupunta sa disputed area para makipag-giyera kung hindi maghanapbuhay,” Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Cirilito Sobejana told a briefing on Tuesday.

[Translation: The pronouncement from China that their coast guard can open fire on people intruding into the territory — it is very alarming. I should say it is a very irresponsible statement because our countrymen don’t go to the disputed area to wage war but to earn a living.]

Because of the perceived threat brought about by the new measure, Sobejana said they will increase visibility in contested areas through the deployment of more naval assets. But he was quick to clarify that “our navy presence there is not to wage war against China, but to secure our people.”

The Philippines recently filed a diplomatic protest over the law that took effect this month, with Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin saying it is “a verbal threat of war” to any country that defies it. 

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian, however, allayed fears about the new law. He said it was crafted to crack down on “extremely vicious” crimes only.

Last month, Larry Hugo, a long-time fisherman, told CNN Philippines he was blocked by a Chinese coast guard ship while on his way to a regular fishing area near the Philippine-occupied Pag-asa Island, which is part of the Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea. He said he got scared and turned back.

China insists on owning almost the entire South China Sea, despite a 2016 ruling of a tribunal constituted under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and backed by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. The landmark decision invalidated China’s "nine-dash line" claim and recognized the Philippines’ sovereign rights in areas in the West Philippine Sea, which Beijing contests.