Don’t misread rules of ‘use of force’ in China’s Coast Guard Law
Published: Apr 19, 2021 04:37 PM
Photo taken with mobile phone on March 26, 2020 shows a vessel of the coast guard intercepting a vessel suspected of smuggling at sea.File photo:Xinhua

Photo taken with mobile phone on March 26, 2020 shows a vessel of the coast guard intercepting a vessel suspected of smuggling at sea.File photo:Xinhua

After the implementation of China's Coast Guard Law, some countries showed concern over "language in the law that expressly ties the potential use of force." In fact, relevant provisions are not only in line with international law, but are similar to those in other countries. The law is an important guarantee for the China Coast Guard's law enforcement and maritime rights protection. Those who deliberately misinterpreted the law have the ulterior motives to make an issue of it.

Some people accused China's Coast Guard Law of violating the "prohibition of the use of force" in international practice. As a matter of fact, "prohibition of the use of force" means that according to the UN Charter, there are only two situations in which a country lawfully uses force: namely by obtaining authorization from the UN Security Council or exercising the right of self-defense. However, the above-mentioned rule is confined to international relations and inapplicable to a country's internal enforcement power. Otherwise, this "prohibition" would conflict with the basic principles of international law of non-interference in internal affairs.

China's Coast Guard Law stipulates that when the national sovereignty, sovereign rights, or jurisdiction is being illegally violated at sea by a foreign organization or individual, or is in imminent danger of illegal violation, a coast guard agency shall have the power to take all necessary measures including the use of weapons to stop the violation and eliminate the danger. Article 50 requires China Coast Guard officers to make reasonable judgments based on the nature, degree and urgency of the danger to avoid or reduce unnecessary casualties and property losses. In fact, the China Coast Guard has always exercised restraint in maritime law-enforcement operations. With the guidance of the Coast Guard Law, it will not take excessive compulsory measures against foreign fishing-workers and fishing boats.

Some claim that if the China Coast Guard forcibly evicts foreign warships and vessels used for non-commercial purposes, it would violate the provisions of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) regarding the immunity of such ships. This is a deliberate misinterpretation of the UNCLOS.

Article 30 of the UNCLOS stipulates that "if any warship does not comply with the laws and regulations of the coastal State concerning passage through the territorial sea and disregards any request for compliance therewith which is made to it, the coastal State may require it to leave the territorial sea immediately." The relevant provisions of China's Coast Guard Law conform to the spirit of the UNCLOS.

Most of coast guard laws of different countries only authorize the coast guards to use force in terms of law enforcement, but they don't specify the circumstances when to use it. China's Coast Guard Law has strict and detailed provisions about the use of force. It's far more scientific and reasonable than laws in some other countries which allow the use of force but don't specify details about how it will be used. China's law can avoid the abuse of force.

In addition, China's Coast Guard Law provides specific regulations on international cooperation and law-enforcement supervision. This demonstrates China's goodwill to work jointly with other countries in order to maintain maritime security and conduct maritime governance. Hyping that China's Coast Guard Law has "loose restrictions on the use of force" is an obvious attempt to mislead the public with ulterior motives.

The author is an observer of international affairs. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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