THE Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Wednesday filed a diplomatic protest over China’s new law allowing its Coast Guard to fire on foreign vessels.
“After reflection I fired a diplomatic protest. While enacting law is a sovereign prerogative, 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,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. tweeted.
Earlier, when a radio commentator made comments on the new Chinese law, Locsin had said: “It’s none of our business; it is China’s business what laws it passes; so please, a little self-restraint.”
Meanwhile, in an apparent challenge to China’s new law, the United States Embassy in the Philippines tweeted that the Theodore Roosevelt carrier strike group (TRCSG) entered the South China Sea (SCS) on January 23 to conduct routine operations.
“After sailing through these waters throughout my 30-year career, it’s great to be in the South China Sea again, conducting routine operations, promoting freedom of the seas and reassuring allies and partners,” said Rear Adm. Doug Verissimo, commander of Carrier Strike Group 9.
The TRCSG is on a scheduled deployment to the US 7th Fleet to “ensure freedom of the seas, build partnership that foster maritime security and conduct a wide range of operations.”
Senators weigh in
News of China’s new law allowing its Coast Guard to fire on foreign vessels prompted senators to push back against Beijing.
Senator Risa Hontiveros, airing apprehensions over rising tension in the West Philippine Sea, prodded Malacañang to formally manifest the Philippine government’s concern over China’s controversial Coast Guard Law and denounce harrassment of Filipino fishermen in Pag-asa Island. This, as video of a Filipino boat being harassed by Chinese Coast Guard elements very near Pag-asa Island has gone viral. Interviewed on radio, one fisherman said he had not ventured back to sea, fearing a worse fate should he run into the Chinese forces once more.
Pag-asa is the largest island in the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG), a municipality of the Philippines’s Palawan province.
“Malacañang should denounce China’s bullying immediately,” Hontiveros said Wednesday. She pointed out that the bullying incident happened shortly after the passage of China’s Coast Guard Law, prompting the Filipino fisherfolk to air an appeal for the Duterte administration to deplore the harrassment.
“This is the arrogance of a country that still considers itself the Middle Kingdom and an empire. This is an unacceptable encounter,” Hontiveros said.
The Department of National Defense (DND), she said, should immediately come up with “a strategy for if and when the Chinese Coast Guard uses force in our contested waters.”
Warning that the brewing tension in the West Philippine Sea could escalate, Hontiveros cautioned that “the next thing we know, Chinese Coast Guard might not only block, but also shoot at our own boats,” she added.
She aired an appeal for Asean countries to “reach a consensus and take multilateral action to stop China’s incessant adventurism,” noting that ‘the Chinese game plan is to isolate and divide the countries around it so it can deal with them individually through bilateral talks, maximizing its relative advantage in resources and power against any one of its neighbors.”
In a privilege speech late Tuesday, Senator Francis Tolentino recalled that the National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China passed a law on January 22, called the Coast Guard Law of the People’s Republic of China.
“The law, for the first time explicitly allows its coast guard, under certain circumstances, to fire on foreign vessels, fishing boats, coast guard boats, naval boats, or any peace-seeking NGO boats to defend China’s maritime rights and interests,” Tolentino said, noting that “this law will take effect on February 1, six  days from now.”
Tolentino said he brought up the issue in plenary “because a lot of our fishermen are out there. Some of our fishermen, including those from Zambales, Mindoro, Palawan, Batangas, and Cavite, will go fishing not knowing the existence of this newly passed law by the National People’s Congress of China, allowing its coast guard to take, and I quote, ‘all necessary measures including the use of weapons when national sovereignty rights and jurisdiction are being illegally infringed upon by foreign organizations or individuals at sea.’”
He warned that China’s law is “very specific,” noting that “it specifies the circumstances under which the different kinds of weapons—handheld [I’m referring to pistols or rifles], shipborne missiles, or airborne coming from planes—can be used.”
Tolentino reminded his peers that “the law as passed allows the Chinese coast guard personnel to demolish other countries’ structures built on Chinese-claimed reefs and to board and inspect vessels in waters claimed by China.”
Tolentino said: “Mr. President, I worry for our fishermen from Zambales, Cavite, Batangas, Mindoro, and the rest of the eastern seaboard, who will venture out into that coast. The law further provides that the Chinese coast guard is empowered to set up temporary exclusion zones. These are lockdown zones as needed to stop other vessels and personnel from entering.”
Image credits: DFA