While Chinese President Xi Jinping preached global cooperation and warned of “arrogant isolation” in a video address to the World Economic Forum this week, China prepared to carry out a new law that allows its coast guard to fire on foreign vessels—including Filipino fishing boats—in disputed areas of the South China Sea.
The law passed by China allows the Chinese coast guard to “take all necessary measures, including the use of weapons when national sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction are being illegally infringed upon by foreign organizations or individuals at sea.”
The law would also allow personnel of the Chinese Coast Guard to “demolish” other countries’ structures built on China-claimed reefs and to board and inspect vessels in waters claimed by China.
It also empowers the Chinese coast guard to create temporary exclusion zones to stop other vessels and personnel from entering.
The implications of the new law were not lost on our lawmakers and maritime experts.
“Our fisheries have been taken from us. Our people have been deprived of their livelihood, and I think China owes us an explanation as to what its true intentions are,” said Senator Richard Gordon during the plenary session.
“Here is gunboat diplomacy where the coast guard personnel will be permitted to board our boats. They’re just not satisfied with ramming our boats and then leaving them, now they are willing to inspect foreign ships,” Gordon said.
He also warned that a shooting war could break out if Chinese coast guard tried to stop American, Australian, British, and French vessels that pass through the disputed waters.
Senator Francis Tolentino said Filipino fishermen from Zambales, Mindoro, Palawan, Batangas, and Cavite, might venture into areas claimed by China and suffer the consequences.
The director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, Jay Batongbacal, also expressed concern that Filipino fishermen in the coastal towns of Zambales could be harmed, given their previous harassment by Chinese vessels in the Scarborough Shoal.
“Given the previous experiences, yes. It’s now very clear. China has sent the message that when our fishermen basically encounter these vessels, they should be afraid that they can be shot by these Chinese vessels,” he said.
On a wider scale, Batongbacal said the new law would heighten tensions in the contested waters.
All of this puts an ironic spin on Xi’s address to the WEF, in which he said history shows that antagonism and confrontation would hurt everybody. This is clearly a lesson that China itself has not learned.