The Philippines, which like Taiwan has claims to parts of the South China Sea, reacted strongly yesterday to China making rules giving Hainan Province police the power to board and seize control of foreign ships which “illegally enter” Chinese waters, and order them to change course or stop sailing.
The Philippines said the move could violate international maritime laws allowing the right of passage and accused Beijing of trying to escalate tension in the area.
“That cannot be. That’s a violation of the international passage [rights],” said 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,” he added.
Philippine Foreign Ministry spokesman Raul Hernandez was more circumspect, saying the government was still checking the reports.
“If it is true, it will pose a concern to the Philippines and the international community,” he said.
In Washington, US military officials said the report mentions only police in Hainan Province, not military forces, so the intended scope of the policy is not clear.
Hainan’s policy was unlikely to affect the behavior of US vessels operating in international waters, the officials said.
The US is a security ally of the Philippines.
US China expert Bonnie Glaser said the Chinese “believe they are using different elements of Chinese power very effectively ... and they feel that anything that is not using force, that is under that bar, is acceptable — including economic coercion against the Philippines.”
“They look at the US and say ‘the US is not going to risk a confrontation with China over these issues.’ In some ways, they are calling the US’ bluff,” said Glaser, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊) said his government, which says it will brook no outside interference in its sovereignty claims, was perfectly within its rights in allowing police to board vessels in the South China Sea.
“Management of the seas according to the law is a sovereign nation’s legitimate right,” he told a news briefing.