U.S. uses Coast Guard Law as excuse to encircle China
First Voice

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The Taiwan authority and the United States signed their first agreement under the Biden administration, establishing a Coast Guard Working Group (CGWC) in the South China Sea to tackle the Coast Guard Law (CGL) that the Chinese central government passed in January. 

When Taiwan's so-called representative Hsiao Bi-khim signed the agreement in Washington, the stated aim of the new CGWC was to forge stronger partnerships among American "allies" to ensure a free and open Asia Pacific. If the objective of the CGWG is to pressurize the Chinese mainland toward exercising restraint in the South China Sea, this is more about geopolitics than merit and will only act to the detriment of maritime security. 

First and foremost is the CGL itself. If the CGL is erroneously perceived as warranting an increased military presence in the region, then the probability of miscalculations increases. 

China has been long undergoing a process to institutionalize its maritime laws through a solid legal foundation, which resulted in the passage of the law in January. The articles of the law challenge the widely held notion that China will attack other sovereign states. For instance, Article 48 underlines preconditions prior to its application that must be satisfied including counter terrorism threats, dealing with violent incidents at sea and deterring attacks on China's vessels.

Proportionality is also a key aspect of the law which has been missed by Taiwan and the United States, where CGL personnel would have to assess the level of force being employed to avoid collateral damage.

This law is not an offensive doctrine, strategy or policy which takes aim at other sovereign states as is construed.

When Su Tseng-chang, head of Taiwan's administrative authority, claimed on Friday that Beijing's new law shocked the region with maritime security being imperiled, it was clear that an alarmist narrative was being peddled.

Chinese Coast Guard boats patrol in east China's Bohai Bay, September 13, 2020. /CFP

Chinese Coast Guard boats patrol in east China's Bohai Bay, September 13, 2020. /CFP

To make it incumbent upon states which shared "common values" to strive toward peace is eerily similar to how analysts such as Alex Vuving, professor at the Daniel K Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii, had claimed that countries such as Malaysia, Myanmar and Vietnam would be at the receiving end of Chinese "aggression" if the law is implemented. 

Such statements discard actual mooting points such as de-escalation zones in the South China Sea, exercising mutual restraint or promoting confidence building measures aimed at diffusing tensions. This includes turning a blind eye on the irrefutable fact that China's Coast Guard Law is not unique in Asia, given that Japan had revised its law of the kind back in 2001.

Based on facts alone, it is clear that contesting the CGL in China through maritime cooperation with the Taiwan authority is less about maritime security and more about securing geopolitical advantages over the Chinese mainland.

Speaking to White House reporters on Friday, U.S. President Joe Biden repeatedly stressed on how the United States will not allow China to become the most powerful country in the world. These comments are a reflection of great power competition championed by the United States where divisions belittle the significance of cooperative frameworks. 

Provocative behavior on part of the United States with the deployment of military vessels taking aim at China is missing from the China expansionist equation cited by the Biden administration with the Taiwan case used conveniently to strengthen American presence in the region.

Delisting of Chinese companies, American bans on cotton imports from Xinjiang and leveraging alliances all fall under the purview of this strategy of containment, with the CGL being used to justify its own acts of aggression.

Academics such as Eduardo Araral, associate professor at the National University of Singapore's public policy school, summed up China's strategy perfectly. The PLA's doctrine is not about aggression or ambiguity but securing options in case of threats to territorial sovereignty.

As the Taiwan authority cites the mainland's military flights over the Taiwan Straits as a threat to maritime security, the truth is that the CGL is being used as an excuse to encircle the Chinese mainland once again and that too without merit.

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