China law empowers coast guard to use force amid disputes

China has authorized its coast guard to fire on foreign vessels and destroy structures on features it claims, potentially raising the possibility of clashes with regional maritime rivals

BEIJING -- China has authorized its coast guard to fire on foreign vessels and destroy structures on features it claims, potentially raising the possibility of clashes with regional maritime rivals.

The Coast Guard Law passed on Friday empowers the force to “take all necessary measures, including the use of weapons, when national sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction are being illegally infringed upon by foreign organizations or individuals at sea.”

The law also authorizes the coast guard to demolish other countries’ structures built on reefs and islands claimed by China and to seize or order foreign vessels illegally entering China’s territorial waters to leave.

Both water bodies are considered potential flashpoints and the law's passage may be a signal that China is preparing to up the stakes over what it considers its key national interests.

Controlling them is a strategic imperative if China wishes to displace the U.S. as the dominant military power in East Asia, while the resources they contain, including fish stocks and undersea deposits of oil and natural gas, may be key to maintaining China’s continued economic development.

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