China stirs up anxiety with new maritime law

Shandong PLA Navy Aircraft Carrier (PLA Navy file image)

Posted on September 3, 2021 at 5:08 p.m. by

The Maritime Executive

Under a revised maritime traffic safety law issued earlier this year, certain foreign vessels sailing in waters claimed by China will be required to give advance notice to Chinese maritime authorities from September 1.

The controversial law requires foreign operators of submersibles, nuclear ships, ships carrying radioactive materials, and ships carrying bulk petroleum, chemicals, liquefied gas, and other toxic and harmful substances to provide detailed information, including vessel name, call sign, current position, cargo, port of call and estimated time of arrival.

Issued by the Maritime Security Administration (MSA), the law provides for stiff penalties and fines for non-compliant vessels and gives Beijing the power to order vessels that threaten the security of the country’s internal or territorial waters to leave.

“This law is drafted with the aim of strengthening the management of maritime traffic, maintaining the order of maritime traffic, ensuring the safety of persons and property, and safeguarding the rights and interests of the State,” states the law as revised and adopted by the Chinese National Council. People’s Congress in April.

Although Beijing says the new law will apply to navigation and maritime safety, the focus on “maritime areas under China’s jurisdiction” has fueled concern over ship navigation in the region. Greater Indo-Pacific.

China claims sovereignty over the vast majority of the South China Sea, including areas hundreds of kilometers beyond the 12 nautical mile limit accepted by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea ( UNCLOS). The nation occupied and developed several islets in the Paracel and Spratly Islands, building advanced military bases equipped with air defense systems, strategic runways and piers for warships.

“China is once again testing the international community to gauge how it will react to the enactment of a new maritime law that exceeds the allowable jurisdictional limits of international law, as evidenced by UNCLOS,” said Raul (Pete) Pedrozo. , professor of international law. at the Stockton Center for International Law, in a recent analysis.

Pedrozo predicts that Beijing will use the new law to engage in gray area operations below the threshold of armed conflict, seeking to intimidate its neighbors and further erode the rule of law at sea.

Notably, the new law grants the MSA the power to establish vessel routing and reporting zones, traffic control zones and restricted navigation zones. Vessels passing through important fishing waters, areas with heavy maritime traffic, ship routing areas and traffic control zones must increase their lookout, maintain safe speeds and comply with specific navigation rules.

The new law stipulates that foreign warships and other government vessels used for non-commercial purposes that violate Chinese laws and regulations during innocent passage must be dealt with in accordance with “relevant administrative laws and regulations.”