In a broadening campaign to enforce its territorial claims, China says it is beefing up its police powers in the disputed South China Sea and requiring foreign fishermen to ask Beijing’s permission to operate within most of the vast, strategic waterway.
The move, which took effect this month, comes on the heels of the announcement in late November last year of a new air defense zone requiring foreign planes to notify Beijing of flights over a huge swath of the East China Sea.
The steps are prompting concerns that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) push to assert China’s role as a regional power could spark a confrontation.
The affected waters account for 2 million kilometers of the South China Sea’s 3.5 million square kilometers, a sweeping area encompassing island groups claimed by Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines and others — and in some cases occupied by their armed forces.
Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez yesterday said that his country’s diplomats were seeking more information on the new South China Sea rules.
There was no immediate response from Vietnam.
The new rules demand that foreign vessels seek permission to fish or survey within waters administered by Hainan Province.
Authorities in Sansha, on an island far south of Hainan, held a joint drill on Wednesday last week involving 14 ships and 190 personnel from various border patrol and law enforcement agencies.
“Rampant infringement by foreign fishing vessels” was among the activities targeted in the practice scenarios, law enforcement official Wang Shizhen was quoted as saying by the China News Service.
Passed by Hainan’s provincial legislature in late November last year, the new rules say only that permission must be obtained from unnamed “relevant departments” under China’s Cabinet.
Chinese law allows for the confiscation of catches and fishing equipment and fines of up to 500,000 yuan (US$83,000) for violators.