By Tsukasa Hadano, Nikkei staff writer
BEIJING — China’s coast guard would be authorized to use weapons against foreign ships involved in illegal activities in its waters under draft legislation released this week.
The text, released Wednesday by the National People’s Congress, stipulates that handheld weapons may be used against vessels deemed to have violated China’s sovereignty, either in emergencies or if warnings are not heeded.
Beijing’s move has raised concerns about the heightened risk of a clash around the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands. China claims the islands as the Diaoyu, and Chinese vessels, including coast guard ships, have been spotted in the area on a near-daily basis.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said Thursday that Tokyo will “continue to watch developments regarding China’s coast guard with great interest,” and that relevant government agencies are gathering information.
The new legislation would give China’s coast guard a freer hand in weapons usage than its Japanese counterpart, which faces tight restrictions. Japanese law requires confirmation of “suspicious activity” on board a foreign vessel, and even then forbids responses that could put people in danger unless a specific set of conditions is met, including possible preparations for a serious crime.
The Chinese legislation would let coast guard vessels that are under attack respond with shipborne or airborne weapons. It also allows for other measures, such as detention and towing, to be taken against foreign vessels considered to have illegally entered Chinese waters.
The document states that the coast guard’s responsibilities include protecting China’s marine resources and fishing industry, which some worry could lead to more coast guard vessels entering Japan’s territorial waters, ostensibly to protect Chinese fishing boats that operate around the Senkakus.
The legislation also lists taking necessary steps to protect strategic islands, exclusive economic zones and artificial islands as part of the coast guard’s duties. The latter likely refers to Beijing’s artificial islands in the South China Sea.
The measure is expected to pass in December at the earliest.
Beijing’s leadership has been pushing the integration of China’s coast guard, which is now commanded by a former naval officer, with the navy of the People’s Liberation Army.
China’s coast guard had 130 vessels at the end of 2019, roughly double the patrol ships in Japan’s Coast Guard, and has been confirmed to have 10,000-ton-plus ships equipped with 76-millimeter guns — the world’s largest coast guard vessels.