Don’t Allow China to Challenge International Order through new Coast Guard Law

Yomiuri Shimbun file photos
From left, The Japanease national flag, The Chinese national flag

The new Chinese law is a self-righteous provision that is incompatible with international law and order. Any attempt to continue unilaterally changing the status quo on the basis of this law should not be allowed.

China has brought into force coast guard legislation to strengthen the authority and military role of the China Coast Guard, which is the country’s maritime security organ.

The main purpose of the law is to allow the use of weapons by vessels belonging to the China Coast Guard if China judges that its sovereignty has been infringed or threatened by foreign organizations or individuals in the “jurisdictional waters” claimed by China.

The law also clearly states that the coast guard will “execute the duties of defensive operations” based on orders of the Central Military Commission, which is the Chinese military’s command organ.

The move is apparently aimed at further promoting integration of the coast guard with the country’s naval forces and trying to aggressively advance into the East China Sea and the South China Sea. If the use of weapons against foreign governments’ ships is allowed, it could develop into a military clash due to accidental incidents.

Another problem is that the scope of the jurisdictional waters claimed by China is ambiguous.

In the South China Sea, China has claimed that it has jurisdiction over a wider area than its territorial waters and exclusive economic zone, which are recognized under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. It is unacceptable to make actions that run counter to international law a fait accompli.

Last year, Chinese government ships entered the contiguous zone off the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture for a record 333 days. They have also repeatedly intruded into Japanese territorial waters. They may be intending to obstruct proper law enforcement by Japan.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said last year that Japanese fishing boats were entering the “sensitive waters,” justifying Chinese vessels entering Japanese waters. There is a possibility that with the enforcement of the coast guard law, China will further intensify its provocative actions.

It is important for Japan to manage its territory and territorial waters in a stable manner through such measures as swiftly removing Chinese government vessels approaching Japanese fishing boats from Japan’s territory and territorial waters.

It is only natural for the Japanese government to express its concern over China’s coast guard law at working-level talks on maritime affairs between Japanese and Chinese senior officials, and to ask China to clarify the criteria for implementing the law and the waters over which the law’s authority extends.

The Philippines and Vietnam, which have territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea, have expressed their opposition to China’s coast guard law, among other items. Japan and Britain also shared their strong concern over the law at a meeting of their foreign and defense ministers.

The Japanese government should cooperate with the international community to urge China to exercise self-restraint in this respect.

The Japan Coast Guard cannot be said to be fully prepared for a buildup in Chinese government ships. It is also feared that there could be a “gray-zone situation” — an intermediate situation between peacetime and an emergency — in which armed fishermen land on a remote island, for example.

The Japanese government needs to not only beef up JCG patrol ships, but also to enhance its response capabilities by facilitating cooperation between the JCG and the Self-Defense Forces, and between the SDF and U.S. forces.