23rd February 2024 – (Beijing) The China Coast Guard (CCG), a sentinel of sovereignty at sea, has recently showcased its robust maritime law enforcement capabilities. This display of maritime might comes as a response to what Beijing perceives as provocative intrusions by the Philippines in the South China Sea, actions by Taiwan authorities near Kinmen, and Japanese activities around the Diaoyu Islands.

On a day marked by assertive maritime defence, the CCG exercised its legal prerogative by intercepting the Ship 3002 of the Philippines’ Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. The vessel, which Beijing accused of illegally encroaching upon waters by Huangyan Dao, was swiftly repelled, a testament to the CCG’s vigilant protection of China’s aquatic borders.

February’s dossier of CCG activities paints a picture of a maritime force in constant readiness, issuing no fewer than five communiqués on its engagements with Philippine vessels around the disputed areas of Huangyan Dao and Ren’ai Jiao. Analysts interpret these engagements as a firm rebuke of Manila’s attempts to capitalise on the lunar holiday period, with the CCG’s actions reinforcing China’s national sovereign security and maritime rights.

The past six months have seen a crescendo of Philippine activities near contested Chinese islands and reefs. Manila’s repeated dispatch of construction materials to a grounded warship on Ren’ai Jiao, and trespassing near Huangyan Dao, have met with calculated responses from the CCG. These responses, described by experts as legitimate, professional, and restrained, underscore reciprocity in the face of maritime disputes.

Ding Duo, a maritime law authority at the China Institute for South China Sea Studies, underscores the CCG’s pivotal role in upholding territorial and maritime rights. The CCG’s activities, while assertive, are designed to act as a deterrent to conflict escalation.

This stance is a clear signal to the international community that the essence of the South China Sea dispute, from Beijing’s perspective, is one of territorial and maritime demarcation, not one of geopolitical or military brinkmanship. Ding highlights that it is the Philippines, with encouragement from the United States through joint military patrols, that is generalising the issue and fuelling militarisation.

Analysts predict a directly proportional relationship between Philippine provocations and CCG activity, viewing this as an affirmation of Beijing’s jurisdiction over the islands and reefs in the South China Sea.

In the Taiwan Straits, the CCG’s declaration of intensified maritime law enforcement follows an incident involving the harsh treatment of a mainland fishing boat by Taiwan authorities, resulting in two fatalities. This incident, occurring amidst a sensitive time for cross-Straits relations, has prompted experts to suggest that previous mainland restraint should not be mistaken for incapacity.

In the East China Sea, the CCG’s regular patrols around the Diaoyu Islands represent a continuity of presence, with the latest operations intended to safeguard territorial rights. This routine assertion of sovereignty is in stark contrast to Japanese vessels’ unlawful entry into Chinese territorial waters, which was met with necessary countermeasures by CCG vessels.

The CCG’s activities, although often framed as responses to specific events, are part of a broader narrative of routine patrols initiated after Japan’s controversial move to “nationalise” the Diaoyu Islands in 2012. The Japanese media frequently sensationalises these patrols, while China announces them as a matter-of-fact enforcement of its sovereignty.

While the South China Sea and Diaoyu Islands disputes involve territorial and maritime delimitation with other countries, the Taiwan issue is framed by Beijing as a domestic matter. However, in the eyes of Chinese experts, all territories, including the islands and reefs in the South China Sea, the Diaoyu Islands, Kinmen, and those administered by Taiwan, are unequivocally Chinese.

The bolstering of the CCG’s fleet, with the commissioning of larger cutters and the integration of Type 056 corvettes from the People’s Liberation Army Navy, signals a qualitative and quantitative leap in China’s maritime enforcement capabilities. These advancements ensure that the CCG’s presence in hotly contested waters is not only felt but is increasingly dominant, reflective of China’s unwavering commitment to safeguarding its sovereignty and territorial integrity while upholding maritime order.

In sum, the CCG’s recent operations serve as a clear message: China’s resolve to protect its maritime interests is steadfast. Through a combination of strategic fortification and measured enforcement, the CCG stands as a bulwark against incursions, maintaining a vigilant watch over the nation’s vast maritime frontiers.