Explained: Why China’s New Maritime Law Could Raise Tensions in the South China Sea

From September 1, China’s New Maritime Rules aimed at controlling the entry of foreign vessels into what Beijing calls “Chinese territorial waters” come into force. The move is expected to have far-reaching consequences for the passage of ships, both commercial and military, through the South China Sea, East China Sea and Taiwan Strait, and is likely to aggravate existing tension with states. States and its neighbors in the Region.

What is the new law?

Foreign vessels, both military and commercial, will now be required to submit to Chinese supervision in “Chinese territorial waters”, according to the new law. The state-run Global Times, citing the nation’s Maritime Security Administration, said “operators of submersibles, nuclear ships, ships carrying radioactive materials, and ships carrying bulk oil, chemicals, liquefied gas and other toxic and harmful substances are required to report their information about their visits to Chinese territorial waters.

The report adds that vessels that “endanger China’s maritime traffic safety” will be required to report their name, call sign, current position, next port of call and estimated time of arrival. . The name of the dangerous goods loaded and the deadweight of the cargo will also be required.

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Dr Monika Chansoria, Senior Fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA) in Tokyo who specializes in contemporary Asian security and Indo-Pacific strategy, called the decision a follow-up to a series of decisions that have has been upping the ante in the East China Sea and South China Sea since 2020.

Referring to the February 2021 law that allowed China’s coast guard to use weapons on foreign vessels and demolish economic structures in disputed areas, Dr Chansoria said the country’s coast guard was now a ” quasi-military organization under the PLA”. [People’s Liberation Army] command string”.

“All these statements are very alarming, as they increase the risk of a possible miscalculation, which can threaten the overall stability and security in the South China Sea, East China Sea and across the Strait of China. Taiwan,” Dr Chansoria told The Indian Express. an email interview.

Why is this important?

The South China Sea, which stretches between China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam, is of great economic importance globally. Nearly a third of the world’s shipping passes through its corridors and the waters are home to many important fisheries.

It is also a critical route for India, both militarily and commercially. The South China Sea plays a vital role in facilitating India’s trade with Japan, South Korea and ASEAN countries, and contributes to efficient energy supply. In fact, the Ministry of External Affairs estimates that more than 55% of India’s trade passes through the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca. India is also involved in oil and gas exploration in offshore blocks bordering the sea, which has led to clashes with Chinese authorities.

The waters around China are hotly contested. Under a “nine-dash line” card, China claims most of the South China Sea as its sovereign territory. This claim is disputed by its neighbors in the region and by the United States, which, although it has no claim at sea, supports smaller nations in the fight against Chinese exaggeration. The two countries recently debated the issue at a UN meeting on maritime security, with the United States saying it had witnessed “provocative actions to advance illegal maritime claims” and China retorting that the United States had “arbitrarily sent ships and advanced military aircraft in the South China Sea as provocations.”

International position

Currently, international maritime activities are governed by an international agreement called the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to which China, India and more than a hundred other countries are signatories (the United States , significantly, are not). Accordingly, states have the right to implement territorial rights up to 12 nautical miles out to sea. UNCLOS also states that all ships have the right of “innocent passage” through this region – the new law Chinese violates this.

As the law comes into effect, several questions remain. On the one hand, it is unclear how China intends to implement the regulation. The United States, which regularly holds naval exercises in the region, is unlikely to abide by Beijing’s law. It also remains to be seen how the rest of the UNCLOS signatories will react to this challenge to the agreement.

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