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US to stand with Southeast Asian countries against Chinese ‘pressure', says State Department

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reaffirmed on 27 January Washington’s rejection of China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea (SCS) beyond what is permitted under international law, and pledged to “stand with Southeast Asian claimants” in the face of Chinese “pressure”.

The secretary made the remarks in a phone conversation with Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin Jr during which he also “stressed the importance of the Mutual Defense Treaty for the security of both nations, and its clear application to armed attacks against the Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the Pacific, which includes the South China Sea”.

Blinken’s statements come amid heightened tensions over maritime and territorial disputes in the SCS, especially after Beijing passed a law on 22 January authorising the China Coast Guard’s (CCG’s) use of firepower – under certain circumstances – against foreign vessels in waters it considers to be “under China’s jurisdiction”

According to the new ‘Maritime Police Law of the People’s Republic of China’, which was adopted on 22 January by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, the CCG is now authorised to take “all necessary measures, including the use of weapons, when national sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction are being illegally infringed upon by foreign organisations and individuals at sea, or are facing an imminent danger of illegal infringement”.

The new law also authorises the CCG to demolish “buildings, structures, and various fixed or floating devices” from foreign organisations and individuals located “in the sea areas and islands under our jurisdiction”, if they have been built or set up without Beijing’s permission.

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