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Vietnam responses to adoption of China's Coast Guard Law

Hannah Nguyen Hannah Nguyen

ngminhphuong26@gmail.com

January 30, 2021 | 08:21

Vietnam demands that relevant countries respect its sovereignty, sovereign right and jurisdiction in the Bien Dong Sea, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang said on January 29 in response to reporters’ query regarding the adoption of the Coast Guard Law by the Chinese National People’s Congress Standing Committee.

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Vietnam responses to adoption of China's Coast Guard Law
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang. Photo: VNA

Hang stressed that in promulgating and enforcing national legal documents related to the sea, countries have the obligation to comply with international law and international agreement to which they are members, especially the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (1982 UNCLOS).

“Vietnam has sufficient legal basis and historical evidence to affirm its sovereignty over Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagos in accordance with international law, and its sovereignty, sovereign right and jurisdiction over waters in line with the 1982 UNCLOS,” Hang said, emphasizing that the country will resolutely and persistently pursue measures in conformity with international law to protect those legal and legitimate rights.

She said related countries have the responsibility to observe international law and the UNCLOS with goodwill, not take actions that would escalate tensions, and actively contribute to building trust, maintaining peace and stability, and promoting international order at sea as well as security, safety and freedom of navigation and aviation in the Bien Dong Sea or East Sea.

An act of war

On January 22, China passed a law that breaks precedent by explicitly allowing its coast guard to fire on foreign vessels.

According to draft of the Coast Guard Law published earlier, the coast guard would be allowed to use "all necessary means" to stop or prevent threats from foreign vessels. It also allows coast guard forces to demolish other countries' structures and to board and inspect foreign vessels on reefs and in waters claimed by China.

Vietnam responses to adoption of China's Coast Guard Law
A China Coast Guard vessel at the disputed Scarborough Shoal in 2017. Photo by Reuters

"Any use of force by China's Coast Guard is not a mere law enforcement action, it is an actual use of force by the state, which can be considered as an act of aggression, or use of force contrary to the United Nations Charter, or tantamount to war, if it is employed in the waters of other countries that China claims as its own," Professor Jay Batongbacal, Director of the Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, University of the Philippines, told VnExpress International.

China's Coast Guard is not a civilian agency; it falls directly under the Central Military Commission, and therefore is or should be considered a military agency, he explained.

Despite the fact that coast guards all over the world do have law enforcement powers that can include the use of force, the problem is China's Coast Guard has not been operating only in its own waters but has also been encroaching the waters of other countries. That is what makes it different from others, Batongbacal said.

Therefore, the principal challenge now is that China has delegated the authority to decide whether or not to use force to operating units at sea. This means that the probability of an incident involving the use of force is higher than before.

Batongbacal stressed that this is a common challenge facing all Southeast Asian countries around the South China Sea whose waters are claimed by China. The South China Sea is known as the Bien Dong Sea in Vietnam.

In a January 26 webinar titled Asia Forecast 2021, Bonnie Glaser, Senior Adviser for Asia and Director, China Power Project, CSIS, said that when countries look at China's past practices, how it uses law enforcement vessels to control activities within the nine-dash line where it claims it has jurisdiction and historical rights, they can expect that there will be a continuation or even an uptick in some of those coercive activities. Furthermore, China continues to turn out really large law enforcement vessels in greater numbers than any other claimant in the region.

She said China's attempt to control activities within other countries, in exclusive economic zones that intersect with China's infamous nine-dash line, is definitely growing./.

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Hannah Nguyen