Coastguards can detain trespassers without trial, says Beijing as activists converge on Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea

The release of the latest regulatory document, effective from June 15, coincided with a civilian mission from the Philippines that kicked off on Wednesday to assert Manila’s claims near the contested Scarborough Shoal, also known as Panatag Shoal.

Beijing and Manila both claim the China-controlled shoal – once a common fishing ground for China, the Philippines and Vietnam – and there have been repeated confrontations, sometimes involving clashes between Chinese and Philippine ships.

The regulatory document details rules on the handling of administrative cases and includes a chapter on cases involving foreigners suspected of violating China’s border laws.

Detention can be applied to those suspected of violating exit-entry management regulations, including assisting others to cross borders illegally, having illegal residence and employment in the country, and offences deemed to endanger China’s national security and interests.

According to the regulations, the coastguard can impose up to 30 days of detention on foreigners who violate China’s exit-entry rules. For complicated cases, the time limit can be extended up to 60 days, upon approval from a higher level coastguard agency.

Provincial-level coastguard bureaus are authorised to make their own approvals to extend the detention period.

Chinese coastguard vessels have been present since the Philippine activists and fishermen’s Atin Ito Coalition arrived at the contested shoal on Wednesday.

On Thursday, the China coastguard monitored Philippine vessels which “illegally gathered in waters near Huangyan Island and carried out activities unrelated to normal fishing operations”, state broadcaster CGTN reported.

According to the report, the coastguard “lawfully regulated” the Philippine vessels.

The Chinese foreign ministry on Wednesday warned against Manila’s infringement on “China’s territorial sovereignty and jurisdiction”, noting that “China will safeguard its rights and take necessary countermeasures in accordance with the law”.

Chinese President Xi Jinping last year called on the coastguard to enforce China’s laws and “resolutely defend” its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights.

During a visit to the coastguard’s command office for the East China Sea in Shanghai in late November, Xi said the force must crack down on criminal activities at sea and safeguard China’s maritime economy.

Xi’s remarks followed several run-ins between the Chinese coastguard and vessels from neighbouring countries over the disputed waters in the South China Sea.

The civilian mission from the Philippines comes two weeks after three Chinese coastguard ships fired water cannons at two Philippine vessels near Scarborough Shoal on April 30.

China’s coastguard said it had expelled the Philippine vessels for “intruding” into the waters, while its Philippines counterpart said the damage to one of its ships was new evidence of Beijing’s “harassment” of its vessels.

The incident coincided with major joint naval drills between Manila and Washington, dubbed Balikatan, and followed the first joint summit between the US, Japan and the Philippines in Washington earlier last month.


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