MANILA, Philippines — The US on Saturday scored China for passing a new law that allows its coast guard to fire on foreign vessels, accusing it of putting "unacceptable pressure" on countries with claims in the South China Sea.
"[T]he United States joins the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan and other countries in expressing concern with China’s recently enacted Coast Guard law, which may escalate ongoing territorial and maritime disputes," US Department of State spokesperson Ned Price said in an audio press briefing with reporters.
"We are specifically concerned by language in the law that expressly ties the potential use of force, including armed force by the China Coast Guard, to the enforcement of China’s claims in ongoing territorial and maritime disputes in the East and South China Seas."
Price added that language in the law "strongly implies" that China might use it "to intimidate the [its] maritime neighbors," in order to "assert its unlawful maritime claims in the South China Sea."
Beijing has long refused to acknowledge the arbitral ruling that junked its claims over the resource-rich West Philippine Sea, the part of the South China Sea within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.
"Our position on the [China's] maritime claims remains aligned with the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal’s finding that China has no lawful claim in areas it found to be in the Philippines exclusive economic zone or continental shelf," he said.
"We stand firm in our respective alliance commitments to Japan and the Philippines."
In response to China's controversial new law, the Philippines has filed a diplomatic protest and has said that it will increase its naval visibility in the contested waters to protect Filipino fisherfolk.
"We remind [China] and all...whose forces operate in the South China Sea that responsible maritime forces act with professionalism and restraint in the exercise of their authorities," Price said.
Despite the concerns raised by its neighbors and the US, China has continued to assert its unfounded claims in the South China Sea, most recently installing structures on the Philippine-claimed Mischief or Panganiban Reef as seen in satellite images released by US-based firm Simularity.
The regional superpower insists that its new law is not a threat of war and does not "specifically target any certain country."