China Pushes Back Against 'False Accusations' in Philippines About Coast Guard Law

Beijing’s embassy here hit out Monday at “some forces in the Philippines” that were spreading false information, it said, about a new law allowing the Chinese coast guard to use force in South China Sea waters claimed by the Asian superpower as part of its territory.

The Philippines last week had filed a diplomatic protest against China, with Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. calling the law “a verbal threat of war to any country that defies” it.

In a statement posted on Facebook, the embassy said it had noticed “with regret many false accusations against China on the newly passed China Coast Guard Law.”

The law, which the National People’s Congress approved on Jan. 22, took effect on Monday. It places the China Coast Guard (CCG) under military command, gives the security agency more leeway in asserting Beijing’s claims in the contested South China Sea, and authorizes its ships to use force against foreign vessels.

China’s Coast Guard Law “is a normal domestic legislative activity,” the embassy said.

“Enacting such a coast guard law is not unique to China, but a sovereign right to all. Many countries have enacted similar legislation,” the statement added. “[N]one of these laws have been seen as a threat of war.”

China claims nearly the entire South China Sea, including waters within the exclusive economic zones of Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Taiwan. While Indonesia does not regard itself as party to the South China Sea dispute, Beijing claims historic rights to parts of that sea overlapping Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone as well.

“Everyone is entitled [to] freedom of speech. However, malicious hype-up and irresponsible and baseless accusations that run counter to common sense, are not acceptable and should not be appeased in a society that believes in [the] rule of law and international norms as well as mutual respect,” the embassy said.

The Chinese coast guard, nevertheless, has a reputation for confronting and sometimes clashing with fishing boats and other vessels of neighboring countries in the waterway. Coastal nations fish the South China Sea intensively and explore for oil and gas in its waters.

An investigation in 2020 by Radio Free Asia (RFA), a sister entity of BenarNews, found that CCG vessels work with China’s maritime militia to maintain an ongoing presence in disputed areas of the sea.

Manila’s foreign secretary said last week that enacting a law was usually a sovereign prerogative.

But “this one – given the area involved or for that matter the open South China Sea – is a verbal threat of war to any country that defies the law; which, if unchallenged, is submission to it,” Locsin said.

The embassy, however, denied that the law was targeting any one country.

The law’s passage “doesn’t indicate any change of China’s maritime policy,” the diplomatic mission said. “China has always been committed to managing differences with countries including the Philippines through dialogue and consultations and upholding peace and stability in the South China Sea.”

Still, the law has raised concerns in the international community. A day after its passage, the U.S. Navy announced that the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group had entered the South China Sea “to conduct routine operations” including maritime strike exercises and coordinated tactical training between surface and air units.

‘Relentlessly fake news’

Last week, Filipino fisherman Larry Hugo accused the CCG of driving fishermen away while they were fishing near the Philippine-occupied Pag-asa Island, which is also called Thitu.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila denied this accusation.

“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 such as ‘China Coast Guard harassing Filipino fishermen,’ despite repeated denial[s] from authorities concerned including the Philippine armed forces of such an improbable case,” the embassy said.

On Sunday, Filipino news website Inquirer.net said that Chinese research vessel Jia Geng had been anchored off the coast of Bato, in eastern Catanduanes province, since Jan 28 without clearance from the Philippines government.

The Chinese embassy said the ship’s presence was being sensationalized as an intrusion.

“The fact is that the Chinese scientific survey ship is seeking humanitarian shelter in Philippine waters due to unfavorable weather and sea conditions in the Pacific where they are scheduled to conduct research mission,” the embassy said. “The ship has sought clearance and humanitarian assistance from the Philippine government and maintained communication with its relevant authorities all the time,” the embassy statement said.

A Filipino government source, however, told the Inquirer that the vessel had sought clearance from the Philippine government on Jan. 30 to drop anchor from Jan. 29 to Feb. 2 “due to weather and sea conditions,” but the application remained pending as of Sunday.

In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague struck down China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea after the Philippines sought international intervention because Beijing had effectively seized control of the Scarborough Shoal in 2012.

Beijing has never recognized the ruling, or the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), on which the tribunal based its ruling.

Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

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