12 março 2021

China’s new coast guard law: safeguarding China’s sovereignty or risking peace in Asia’s maritime region?

China recently passed a new coast guard law, which came into effect on February 1st. The law notably gives the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) complete authority to employ force to stop foreign vessels from entering what Beijing considers as China’s “jurisdictional waters”.

The law, for the first time, makes clear the Chinese coast guard’s role in maritime security, administrative law enforcement, criminal investigation, and international cooperation. It also regulates the use of police equipment and arms and defines the limits of the authority and the means and procedures to carry out its role. [1]

In addition, it accentuates the unit’s military component, focusing on its patrol of waters under China’s jurisdiction by “preventing, stopping and eliminating acts that endanger China’s sovereignty, security, and maritime rights and interests” (article 12). It allows the CCG the power to “take all necessary measures, including the use of weapons” (article 22). [2]

Another crucial component of the new law pertains to the CCG’s role as maritime police. It specifies that if a party, to “evade administrative penalties”, resorts to “dumping evidence overboard”, making it difficult for the Chinese maritime unit to adduce evidence, the CCG “may, in the light of other evidence, presume certain facts are established” (article 35) unless the opposing party rebuts the same with evidence. [3]

Since China has maritime sovereignty disputes with Japan in the East China Sea and with several Southeast Asian countries in the South China Sea, concern arose among China’s Indo-Pacific neighbors, considering that it has allegedly sent previously its coast guard to chase away fishing vessels from other countries, sometimes resulting in the sinking of these vessels. [4]

It is of the utmost importance to emphasize that this is not the first chapter of the conflict regarding the extension of China’s sovereignty over the so called “nine-dash line” and United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The South China Sea Arbitration Case, disputed between the Philippines and China, already highlighted the tension of the region and the difficulty to find common ground. In this particular case, the tribunal ruled that “as between the Philippines and China, China’s claims to historic rights, or other sovereign rights or jurisdiction, with respect to the maritime areas of the South China Sea encompassed by the relevant part of the ‘nine-dash line’ are contrary to the Convention and without lawful effect to the extent that they exceed the geographic and substantive limits of China’s maritime entitlements under the Convention; and further DECLARES that the Convention superseded any historic rights, or other sovereign rights or jurisdiction, in excess of the limits imposed therein”. [5]

Hence, considering that China has contested claims under its “nine-dash line”, the law could provide extensive powers to the CCG over competing claimant nations. Its extra-territorial nature allow the CCG to use “all necessary means” to forcibly remove unauthorized foreign presence, but also any structures built by other states (articles 17 and 20).

Li Zhanshu, chairman of the Standing Committee of the 13th National People’s Congress (NPC), noted on January 22nd that the coast guard law provides legal guarantees for effectively safeguarding national sovereignty, security and maritime rights and interests. Moreover, the director of the Foreign Ministry Information Department of China Hua Chunying, replying to a Japanese reporter’s question, said the law is in line with international practice. She noted that China’s maritime policy remains unchanged and expressed hope that Japan will manage differences through dialogue with China and maintain peace and stability in relevant waters. [6]

Thus, a lot of questions arose from the international community concerning the new Chinese coast guard law, as it allegedly could not only presents significant threats to maritime Asia, but more importantly, could even shows disregard for the provisions of the UNCLOS to which China is a party. While China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin has reiterated that the “relevant contents of the draft are in line with international conventions and practices of many countries” and that “China’s policy and position on maritime issues remain unchanged”, the coast guard law could introduce the use of unnecessary force bordering on violations vis-à-vis UNCLOS. [7]

Although the first article of the bill explains that the law is needed to safeguard China’s sovereignty, security, and maritime rights, it is yet uncertain if China will in fact proceed in full accordance with the obligations imposed by UNCLOS and how will be the reaction of the international community.



[1] CGTN. China passes coast guard law to safeguard maritime interests. Retrieved from: Accessed 04 Mar. 2021.

[2] CHINA. The Coast Guard Law of the People’s Republic of China. Retrieved from: Accessed 05 Mar. 2021.

[3] PANDA, J. China’s Coast Guard Law Tests Resilience of Maritime Asia. Retrieved from: Accessed 04 Mar. 2021.

[4] TIAN, Y. L. China authorises coast guard to fire on foreign vessels if needed. Retrieved from: Accessed 04 Mar. 2021.

[5] South China Sea Arbitration, Philippines v China, PCA Case Nº 2013-19, ICGJ 495 (PCA 2016), 12th July 2016, Permanent Court of Arbitration [PCA], p. 476, para. 2.

[6] See note 1

[7] See note 4

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