No country could just attack foreign ships in the disputed South China Sea (SCS), Malacañang said Monday, after Beijing passed a law that explicitly allows its coast guard to fire on vessels and demolish structures built in contested waters.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said states should follow the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as he noted that the use of violence is “generally prohibited” under international law.
China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, passed on Friday the Coast guard Law which empowers Beijing’s maritime force to use “all necessary means” to deter threats posed by foreign vessels in waters “under China’s jurisdiction.”
It also allows the coastguards to launch pre-emptive strikes without prior warning if commanders deem it necessary.
Roque explained that countries can only resort to violence “by way of self-defense,” adding that it should be necessary, proportional, and authorized by the UN Security Council.
“While all sovereign countries can pass laws within their territories, that legislation should still be in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, in which China is a member of,” he said.
The Palace official, meanwhile, urged countries to avoid any activities that will heighten the tension in the disputed maritime area.
Roque likewise reiterated President Rodrigo Duterte’s hope to complete the Code of Conduct which outlines the peaceful resolution of disputes in the resource-rich waters.
The binding code will ensure that no violent conflicts will arise between the six claimants in the SCS. China, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan have overlapping claims in the resource-rich area known for crude oil and natural gas, as well as its important shipping lanes.
Negotiations for the code have been stalled by the coronavirus pandemic, pushing the three-year deadline envisioned by China at the backseat.
The Philippines is the current coordinator of China-ASEAN relations.
Over the years, Beijing has expanded its presence in the waters, turning several reefs into artificial islands with military facilities, runways, and surface to air missiles.
In 2016, the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration upheld the Philippines’ sovereign rights to its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone and rejected Beijing’s nine-dash line doctrine in the SCS.
China has refused to recognize the landmark ruling, which was based on UNCLOS, an international treaty that “lays down a comprehensive regime of law and order in the world’s oceans and seas establishing rules governing all uses of the oceans and their resources.”
President Duterte has tip-toed on the maritime dispute and has cultivated cordial ties with China since assuming the presidency in 2016, as he sought Beijing’s funding and support on his big-ticket infrastructure programs.
But in a surprise move last September, Duterte invoked the 2016 Hague ruling in his debut appearance before the UN General Assembly — his most forceful defense of the country’s rights in the SCS so far.