China’s new maritime restrictions, which aim to control the entry of foreign vessels into what Beijing refers to as “Chinese territorial seas,” go into effect on September 1.
The decision is believed to have far-reaching implications for the transit of commercial and military vessels.
It is likely to aggravate tensions with the United States and its neighbours in the disputed South China Sea, East China Sea, and Taiwan Strait.
The New Law
According to the new law, foreign vessels, both military and commercial, will be compelled to be subject to Chinese control in “Chinese territorial waters.”
According to the state-run Global Times, Submersibles, nuclear vessels, ships transporting radioactive materials, and ships transporting bulk oil, chemicals, liquefied gas, and other poisonous and harmful items are all required to provide specific information while visiting Chinese territorial waters.
They were citing the country’s Maritime Safety Administration.
According to the article, vessels that “endanger China’s maritime traffic safety” will be obliged to notify their name, call sign, present position, next port of call, and projected arrival time.
The identity of any dangerous products carried on board, as well as the cargo deadweight, will be required.
Dr Monika Chansoria is a Senior Fellow at Tokyo’s Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA). She focuses on contemporary Asian security and Indo-Pacific policy, described the move as a response to a series of decisions made since 2020 that have raised the stakes in the East China Sea and the South China Sea.
Dr Chansoria said the Chinese coast guard is now a “quasi-military organisation falling under the PLA’s [People’s Liberation Army] chain of command.
It refers to a law issued in February 2021 allowing the Chinese Coast Guard to fire firearms against foreign vessels and destroy economic infrastructure in contentious zones.
In an email conversation with The Indian Express, Dr Chansoria said, “All of these announcements are quite frightening, as they heighten the potential of a possible miscalculation, which has the potential to jeopardise general peace and security in the South China Sea, East China Sea, and Taiwan Strait.”
What is the significance of this?
The South China Sea, with China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam, is vital to global trade.
Its lanes see nearly one-third of all international shipping, and its seas are home to several significant fisheries.
The South China Sea aids in effectively acquiring energy supplies and facilitates India’s trade with Japan, South Korea, and ASEAN countries. It is also an important military and commercial corridor for India.
In reality, the Ministry of External Affairs believes that the South China Sea and Malacca Straits handle more than 55 per cent of India’s trade. India is also participating in offshore oil and gas drilling in the Sea’s margins, which has resulted in standoffs with Chinese officials.
The oceans surrounding China are a hotbed of conflict. According to a ” nine-dash line ” map, the vast portion of the South China Sea is claimed by China., according to a “nine-dash line” map.
This claim is opposed by the region’s neighbours and the United States, which supports the smaller nations in their struggle against Chinese overreach despite having no claim to the Sea.
At a recent UN meeting on maritime security, the two countries sparred over the issue, with the US claiming that China has been “arbitrarily sending advanced military vessels and aircraft into the South China Sea as provocations.”
China is retorting that the US has been “provocatively sending advanced military vessels and aircraft into the South China Sea as provocations.”
Position on the international stage
International marine operations are currently governed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which China, India, and more than a hundred other nations have signed (the US, significantly, is not).
As a result, states have the authority to enforce territorial claims up to a distance of 12 nautical miles from the coast.
The UNCLOS also stipulates that all vessels have the right of “innocent passage” across the territory, which China’s new rule disregards.
Several questions remain when the law takes effect. For starters, it’s unclear how China plans to apply the rule.
The United States, which regularly conducts naval manoeuvres in the region, is unlikely to abide by Beijing’s edict. It will be fascinating to observe how the other UNCLOS members react to this treaty challenge.