BEIJING -- Chinese maritime police will be able to “board, inspect, seize and expel” foreign ships entering Chinese waters in the South China Sea under a newly approved provincial law that could further raise tensions in the area.
State media reported Thursday that the provincial congress of Hainan, a large Chinese island near Vietnam, this week passed the law to allow more aggressive action against “foreign ships illegally entering the island province’s sea areas.” The new rules would take effect Jan. 1.
Hainan, a popular resort that advertises itself as China’s Hawaii, has administrative jurisdiction over many low-lying islands in the South China Sea claimed by China. In June, China’s State Council incorporated the resource-rich but nearly uninhabitable islands as an administrative unit known as Sansha under Hainan’s administration. It includes islands known in English as the Paracel Islands, the Spratley Islands and the Macclesfield Bank.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also lay claim to islands within the same area, but the governments of each have so far reacted carefully to the news."We are still checking the details of this report. Until we get the full information, we will reserve our comments,” the Manila Standard Today quoted Philippines foreign affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez as saying in response to inquiries.
The maritime disputes between the Chinese government and its neighbors have a decades-long history, but have greatly increased in visibility over the past year as Chinese media have cycled the public’s attention from confrontations with one neighbor to another. The nearby nations have been scrambling in recent weeks to deal with a new Chinese passport with a map inside claiming territories from the East China Seas to the Indian frontier.