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The Problem with China’s New Coastguard Law

Three ambiguities within the law merit attention as they could hold the potential for conflict escalation in large part of China’s maritime periphery

China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee passed a law on January 22, 2021, authorising its coastguards to open-fire on foreign vessels in the contested waters around its periphery. The law empowers its coastguards to use all necessary means to stop or prevent threats from foreign vessels and details the circumstances for using different weapons - hand-held, shipborne and airborne. It also allows the coastguards to demolish other countries’ structures built on Chinese-claimed reefs, board and inspect foreign vessels and create temporary exclusion zones to stop other vessels from entering the Chinese-claimed waters. The Chinese coastguard enjoyed most of these provisions before the ratification of the National Coastguard Law. But this legislation provides adequate legal backing to them on how to use force, assert sovereignty and deal with the regional and extra-regional actors.


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