China's territorial claims in the South China Sea and its efforts to advance into the Indian Ocean are seen to have challenged the established rules-based system

In a move that is expected to escalate tensions between China and its neighbours, Beijing has passed a law that gives power to its coastguard to fire on foreign vessels and demolish structures built in disputed waters, South China Morning Post reported.

China's top legislative body, the National People's Congress Standing Committee, on Friday passed the coastguard law that empowers the coastguard to use "all necessary means" to deter threats posed by foreign vessels in waters "under China's jurisdiction". It will also allow the coastguards to launch pre-emptive strikes without prior warning if commanders deem it necessary.

The SCMP reported that it is yet to ascertain whether the law will be applied to all waters claimed by Beijing, which has a number of competing claims with its neighbours in the East and South China Seas.

Under the new bill, coastguard personnel can demolish structures built or installed by other countries in Chinese-claimed waters and board and inspect foreign ships in the area.

Chinese coastguard ships have played a leading role in asserting China's maritime claims, including in fishing disputes off Indonesia's Natuna Islands and the stand-off with Vietnam over Vanguard Bank.

China claims virtually entire South China Sea, something which is contested heavily by several countries in the region. As per the report, some parts of the waters that fall within Manila's exclusive economic zone was renamed West Philippine Sea by the Philippine government.

China's territorial claims in the South China Sea and its efforts to advance into the Indian Ocean are seen to have challenged the established rules-based system.

China has been increasing its maritime activities in both the South China Sea and the East China Sea over the past few months, partly in response to Beijing's concerns over the increasing US military presence in the region because of escalating Sino-US tensions.

Beijing's rising assertiveness against counter claimants in the East and South Sea has resulted in unprecedented agreement across the Indo-Pacific.

Japanese diplomats have previously lodged a protest against the growing presence of Chinese coastguard vessels near the Diaoyu, or Senkaku, Islands in the East China Sea.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Friday that the new law would clarify the functions and authority of the coastguard forces and that it was in line with international practice. Hua added that China will continue to manage its differences with Japan through dialogue. Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University, said the ambiguous language in the law could heighten the risk of miscalculation in the disputed waters.

"[Though] promulgating a coastguard law (CGL) is a general practice that other countries have been doing (such as Vietnam back in late 2018), China's CGL contains ambiguous language that begs proper definition, for instance 'waters under national jurisdiction'," said Koh.

"This also means the law bestows ... the authority to use force to assert those rights against other foreign parties even when operating in the latter's legitimate [exclusive economic zone]," he said.