China ‘reinforcing tensions with US in South Sea’ says expert
China passed a new law last Friday authorising its own Coast Guard and air force to fire on and destroy foreign vessels in the South China Sea. The move stunned US observers, with one expert calling it a “poorly timed move”. Robert Manning, a senior fellow from the Atlantic Council in Washington DC, said that the law had gone under the radar for many in the US but represented a potential flashpoint in a military conflict between the two superpowers.
The Coast Guard Law explicitly allows the Chinese coast guard to fire on foreign vessels, enabling them to use “all necessary means” to stop or prevent threats from foreign vessels.
Mr Manning said: “I think it is poorly timed because the Chinese appeared to want a fresh start with President Joe Biden. This seems to go in the opposite direction
“The relationship has been under a death spiral under Trump. There is a strong bipartisan consensus on China in the US Congress and it is negative.
“It really escalates an already very dangerous situation in the South China Sea.”
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Mr Manning claimed that China will have to roll back the law, which “reinforces all the negative actions they have taken”.
He said: “The law takes effect on the first of February, so we’ll have to see how it’s implemented but if China is serious about trying to restart the relationship with the US, they need to demonstrate a change in behaviour.”
The expert suggested the US would likely retaliate against the law, adding: “With a group of very experienced Asia hands in the Biden team I expect they’re watching closely and I expect a response.”
Ha Hoang Hop, a fellow at Singapore’s ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute, said the law could also be considered a warning to Washington.
He said: “The law heightens the risk of inducing unintended incidents at sea.”
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Just a day after the law passed, the US sent an aircraft carrier group led by the USS Theodore Roosevelt into the South China Sea.
US officials claimed the patrol was intended to promote “freedom of the seas” – a direct response to Beijing’s maritime agenda.
The patrol also followed growing tensions in the region after Taiwan reported an incursion of Chinese bombers and fighter jets into its air defence identification zone.
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The law also authorises the Chinese coast guard to destroy other countries’ structures built on reefs and islands claimed by China and to seize or order foreign vessels illegally entering China’s territorial waters to leave.
The bill even states that the Chinese can use its ships or even bomber planes to take out foreign vessels.
Beijing insists it has sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea – a claim which is disputed by the US and other neighbouring countries.
In the past, China has sent its coast guard to chase away fishing vessels from other countries, sometimes resulting in the sinking of these vessels.
Christian Le Miere, a maritime diplomacy analyst, said the new law “strikes at the heart” of the US policy of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
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