The 9-dotted demarcation line (in green) used by China for its claim to territory in the South China Sea. Image credit: Wikipedia.
Authorities in Hainan Province have announced that they will begin boarding and searching all ships which “illegally” enter what China considers its territory in the disputed South China Sea, regardless of the fact that numerous other countries also consider it their territory.
The shortest route between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, [the South China Sea] has some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. More than half the globe’s oil tanker traffic passes through it.
New rules, which come into effect on January 1, will allow Hainan police to board and seize control of foreign ships which “illegally enter” Chinese waters and order them to change course or stop sailing, the official China Daily reported.
“Activities such as entering the island province’s waters without permission, damaging coastal defense facilities and engaging in publicity that threatens national security are illegal,” the English-language newspaper said.
“If foreign ships or crew members violate regulations, Hainan police have the right to take over the ships or their communication systems, under the revised regulations,” it added.
Philippines officials have pointed out that such police action outside of internationally recognized Chinese waters may be in contravention of maritime law.
“That cannot be. That’s a violation of the international passage (rights),” Marine Lieutenant-General Juancho Sabban, commander of military forces in the western Philippines, which covers the contested area.
“That’s too much. While we are exerting all peaceful means, that is what they are doing.”
Another Philippines official doubted that SE Asian countries were the target of this latest provocation from a China which is becoming increasingly aggressive in enforcing its territorial claims:
“Those warnings are not directed at us. They might be trying to find out how far the United States would react because this could affect freedom of navigation in one of the busiest sea lanes in the world. If this is an official policy announced by Beijing, this is very serious and a cause of concern.”