US wary China’s new coast guard law could escalate sea disputes

State Department says language in the law could be used by Beijing to intimidate its neighbours in the region amid South China Sea tension.

The United States is concerned about China’s recently enacted coast guard law and that it could escalate maritime disputes and be invoked to assert unlawful claims, the US State Department said on Friday.

China, which has maritime sovereignty disputes with Japan in the East China Sea and with several Southeast Asian countries in the South China Sea, passed a law last month that for the first time explicitly allows its coast guard to fire on foreign vessels.

State Department spokesman Ned Price told a regular briefing that Washington was “concerned by language in the law that expressly ties the potential use of force, including armed force, by the China coast guard to the enforcement of China’s claims, and ongoing territorial and maritime disputes in the East and South China Seas.”

He said the language, “strongly implies this law could be used to intimidate [China’s] maritime neighbours.”

“We are further concerned that China may invoke this new law to assert its unlawful maritime claims in the South China Sea, which were thoroughly repudiated by the 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling,” he said, referring to an international ruling that found in favour of the Philippines in a dispute with China.

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“We remind the PRC and all whose forces operate in the South China Sea that responsible maritime forces act with professionalism and restraint in the exercise of their authorities.”

Price said the US reaffirmed a statement last July in which then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rejected China’s disputed claims to offshore resources in most of the South China Sea as “completely unlawful”.

He added that the US “stands firm” in its alliance commitments to both Japan and the Philippines.

The South China Sea dispute was among the issues that US President Joe Biden discussed in his first call as American leader with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

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