China has granted its border patrol police the right to board and turn away foreign ships entering disputed waters in the South China Sea, state media reported yesterday, as the territorial row rumbled on.
The move comes after Beijing infuriated its neighbors by issuing new passports containing a map showing its claim to almost the whole of the South China Sea. Vietnam and the Philippines are refusing to stamp the documents.
Hainan Province passed new regulations this week allowing local police “to board, seize and expel foreign ships illegally entering the province’s sea areas,” the Global Times reported.
Activities defined as illegal include “illegally halting or dropping anchor ... and carrying out publicity campaigns that endanger China’s national security,” Xinhua news agency said.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊), asked about the new rules, said it was “the legitimate right of the sovereign state” to carry out “maritime management.” Hainan Province administers about 2 million square kilometers of ocean, including the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島), which are also claimed in whole or in part by Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia.
The Global Times quoted Li Zhaojie (李兆傑), a Tsinghua University professor, as saying the regulation could lead to stricter enforcement of Beijing’s right to expel ships entering its territory illegally.
Li said these rights were granted by a UN convention.
“In the past, when foreign ships broke the UN convention, the best thing our patrol could do was chase them out of China’s waters. The new regulation will change that, and give the patrol force the legal means to actually do its job,” he said.