China yesterday defended its new fishing restrictions in disputed waters in the South China Sea against criticism from the US, saying the rules were in accordance with international law.
The rules, approved by China’s southern Hainan Province, took effect on Jan. 1 and require foreign fishing vessels to obtain approval to enter the waters, which the local government says are under its jurisdiction.
Beijing claims almost the entire oil and gas-rich South China Sea and rejects rival claims to parts of it from Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam.
Washington called the fishing rules “provocative and potentially dangerous,” prompting a rebuttal from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) said the government “has the right and responsibility to regulate the relevant islands and reefs, as well as non-biological resources” according to international and domestic law.
“For more than 30 years, China’s relevant fisheries laws and regulations have been consistently implemented in a normal way, and have never caused any tension,” Hua said at a daily news briefing.
“If someone feels the need to say that technical amendments to local fisheries regulations implemented many years ago will cause tensions in the region and pose a threat to regional stability, then I can only say that if this does not stem from a lack of basic common sense, then it must be due to an ulterior motive,” she said.
A government-affiliated fishing organization in Vietnam criticized the new rules and the Philippines said they escalate tensions in the region.
“These regulations seriously violate the freedom of navigation and the right to fish of all states in the high seas,” Philippine Foreign Ministry spokesman Raul Hernandez said. “We have requested China to immediately clarify the new fisheries law.”
After China’s announcement late last year of an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea, which drew sharp criticism from Washington, the fishing rules add another irritant to Sino-US ties.
“China has not offered any explanation or basis under international law for these extensive maritime claims,” US Department of State spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a news briefing on Thursday.
“Our long-standing position has been that all concerned parties should avoid any unilateral action that raises tensions and undermines the prospects for a diplomatic or other peaceful resolution of differences,” she added.
Fishermen from Vietnam and the Philippines have been caught up in heated territorial disputes with China on the seas in recent years. Last year, Vietnam accused China of opening fire on a fishing boat in the South China Sea and later of endangering the lives of fishermen after ramming a fishing trawler.
Hainan officials were not immediately available to comment.
However, according to the Hainan legislature’s Web site, foreign fishing vessels need approval to enter from the “relevant and responsible department” of the Chinese government’s Central Committee.
Hainan, which juts into the South China Sea from China’s southern tip, is responsible for administering the country’s extensive claims to the myriad islets and atolls in the sea.
The fishing rules do not outline penalties, but the requirements are similar to a 2004 national law that says boats entering Chinese territory without permission can have their catch and fishing equipment seized, and face fines of up to 500,000 yuan (US$82,600).