Analysts fear that a Chinese update to its maritime traffic law could help Beijing tighten control over disputed Asian seas by legalizing the interception of foreign ships and authorizing fines against their operators.
The National People’s Congress standing committee voted on April 29 to amend the maritime traffic safety law, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
The revised law, as spelled out clause by clause in the Xinhua report, stipulates that foreign vessels crossing waters under Chinese jurisdiction must first obtain a permit. China’s State Council and other government departments can take “necessary measures” to prevent the passage of foreign vessels through “territorial waters”, according to the law. He cites road safety and environmental protection as reasons.
Ships’ crews under the law must do their part to protect the marine environment and captains will be responsible for emergency response for anyone on board suspected of having an infectious disease, Xinhua added.
Violators of the law can be fined up to approximately $47,000.
Chinese authorities likely intend to use the law selectively to coerce foreign ships out of the disputed South China Sea or discourage them from approaching it, experts say. China is already using its coastguards, fishing fleets and island-building activities to bolster its claim to 90% of the sea.
“I see this as an ongoing part of China’s policy of asserting its sovereign jurisdiction over the South China Sea, constantly pressuring claimant states and trying to drive a wedge between them and the United States,” he said. Carl Thayer, Emeritus Professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam claim all or part of the 3.5 million square kilometer sea that stretches from Hong Kong south to Borneo. The waterway is rich in fish resources and undersea fossil fuel reserves.
US warships crossed the sea 10 times last year to reflect Washington’s view that the sea is internationally open, angering China each time. The United States has no pretensions at sea, but analysts say Southeast Asian states and Taiwan are looking to Washington for support as rival superpower China expands its navy.
More broadly, Chinese leaders view the revised law as part of a “salami-slicing” strategy to enforce South China Sea claims, said Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center professor Alexander Vuving. for Security Studies in Hawaii. They will invoke the law “selectively” and in “certain cases” against ships from Southeast Asia, he said.
Beijing has increasingly turned to domestic laws to bolster its offshore interests. The government bans fishing in the disputed northern part of the sea in the middle of each year to protect fish stocks, for example, and in January it approved a coastguard law that allows shooting at foreign vessels . Chinese authorities have already boarded foreign boats, Thayer said.
“China will increasingly use national laws to enforce its internal jurisdiction in the South China Sea,” Vuving said.
China, which cites historical documents to base its maritime claims, is landfilling small islets for military use to further bolster its claims. The fishing fleets of Vietnam and the Philippines use much of the South China Sea. Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam exploit the same waterway for undersea energy reserves.
The revisions to the maritime security law will add support for Chinese claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea, where the government disputes an islet chain with Japan and Taiwan, said Andrew Yang, secretary general of the Chinese Advanced Policy Council. Research focus group.
However, any effort to “support legitimacy” by stopping foreign-registered boats will increase friction with rival claimants, he said.
“I don’t think they will deliberately stop foreign ships, but they will certainly calculate the risks and interests in order to carry out [the] necessary measures,” Yang said.