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China People's Congress

China's coast guard law targets no specific nation, minister says

Wang Yi defends Hong Kong electoral reform, offers to mediate in Myanmar

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made unusually assertive statements covering numerous issues March 7 during an online news conference on the sidelines of the National People's Congress in Beijing.   © Reuters

SHANGHAI -- China's new law allowing its coast guard vessels to fire on foreign ships in Chinese waters does not target any specific country, Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters on the sidelines of the National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing on Sunday.

The legislation, which grants quasi-military status to the coast guard, is in line with international law and practice, Wang said. It took effect Feb. 1, prompting concerns in Japan that Beijing could intensify activities near the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which Beijing claims as the Diaoyu.

Wang also attempted to deflect criticism of imminent reforms to Hong Kong's electoral system by saying long-term stability in the special administrative region is the higher priority. The foreign minister touched on a wide range of diplomatic issues when addressing the media on Sunday -- including vaccine passports, bilateral relations with the U.S. and an offer to mediate in Myanmar's political stalemate.

The world's second-largest economy has come under increased scrutiny since U.S. President Joe Biden came into office. During his election campaign, Biden pledged to review the threats posed by China.

Beijing is widely regarded as having become more authoritarian over the past year, and hardline on issues such as Hong Kong and Xinjiang Province. Criticism from countries such as the U.K. has been brushed off as interference in domestic affairs.

Wang reaffirmed Beijing's official stance that flaws in Hong Kong's electoral system incited pro-democracy demonstrations over the last two years. Revising the rules, he said, is Beijing's right to ensure that Hong Kong is governed by "patriots" who adhere to the "one country, two systems" concept.

"If you are not patriotic, how are you going to love Hong Kong?" Wang asked. "Hong Kong's transition from chaos to [good] governance is fully in the interests of all, and will provide a better guarantee of safeguarding the rights of Hong Kong people and foreign investors."

NPC lawmakers have been deliberating electoral reform for Hong Kong, a measure that is expected to be approved on Thursday, the last day of the annual legislative session.

Expected changes include the appointment of Hong Kong's chief executive and nomination of legislature candidates to weed out politicians critical of Beijing.

Both the U.S. and the European Union have said the reforms, if implemented, will undermine Hong Kong's autonomy and democratic principles.

In a rare move on another front, Wang appeared to bypass the Association of Southeast Asian Nations by offering to mediate in military-controlled Myanmar. He noted Beijing's close connections with all parties involved.

"China is willing to communicate with all parties on the basis of respecting Myanmar's sovereignty and the will of the people in order to ease the tensions," said Wang.

China's initiative follows ASEAN's subdued response to the coup in Myanmar on Feb. 1, and the resulting political turmoil. ASEAN foreign ministers met online to discuss the situation, and issued a statement on March 2 that expressed readiness to assist without making any specific proposals.

On bilateral relations with the U.S., Wang followed up on the telephone conversation between President Xi Jinping and Biden last month. He urged Washington to refrain from creating new obstacles, and to lift unreasonable restrictions in order to resume cooperation.

Turning to Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province, Wang warned the Biden administration not to alter the long-held one-China policy as President Donald Trump's administration suggested it may be doing with overtures to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.

"The one-China principle is the political foundation of China-U.S. relations, and an insurmountable red line," warned Wang. "We are capable of thwarting any form of separatist actions seeking Taiwan independence," he said.

Wang rebutted criticism that Beijing is using COVID-19 vaccines as a diplomatic lever to win influence in developing nations. Countries are free to choose from the many vaccines available in the market, he said, adding that Beijing resists any attempt to politicize vaccine cooperation.

"We are willing to discuss the feasibility of mutual recognition of inoculations with other countries," he said.

Wang also brushed off as "absolutely absurd" allegations of genocide by the U.S. and other countries in Xinjiang Province against ethnic Uyghurs.

"It is nothing but rumors with ulterior motives and downright lies," Wang said.

Wang said he wishes for the Japanese people to have warmer feelings toward China. A poll last autumn by Japan's Genron NPO found that 89.7% of Japanese respondents held a negative view of China, up from a year earlier.

"China hopes the Japanese society would truly embrace an objective and rational perception of China, so as to solidify public support for long-term progress in China-Japan relations," he said.

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