South China Sea: Beijing’s foreign ships move ‘may go the same way as ADIZ’

September 1, 2021 GMT

China’s regulation requiring notification from foreign vessels entering its claimed territorial waters is unlikely to be obeyed by countries challenging those claims, as happened when it declared an Air Defence Identification Zone on the East China Sea, observers said.

The Maritime Safety Administration said that, taking effect on Wednesday, foreign vessels entering China’s territorial seas must report ship and cargo information.

The administration did not spell out how the requirement would be enforced, but said it would apply the law if vessels failed to comply.

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Collin Koh, a research fellow from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said major players including the United States would not follow the regulation.

Such an outcome would echo China’s declaration of an ADIZ in the East China Sea in 2013, which provoked a backlash from nations including Japan and the US. An ADIZ involves identifying, locating and controlling aircraft for security purposes, as first enforced by the US in 1950, but is not defined by any international treaty and is not treated as a nation’s territorial airspace.

Announcing its zone in 2013, China said foreign aircraft, even in international airspace, should identify themselves to Chinese authorities, yet it has done little to enforce it in recent years.

“I’m not sure how enforceable this new law is ” which as I recall is what happened after China declared the ADIZ,” Koh said. “At best, some parties or countries may try to comply.

“However, the biggest and most consequential actors are unlikely to comply, especially the US, which will view it as yet another example of China’s creeping attempt at maritime jurisdiction. We can expect other extra-regional powers to disregard it, too.”

Shi Yinhong, an international relations expert with Renmin University in Beijing, agreed that enforcement would be challenging.

“Any country that has territorial waters disputes with China in the South China and East China seas, and Western countries like the US and Britain that reject most of China’s territorial claims, will not abide by the regulation,” Shi said.

Chinese diplomatic and legal observers also said enforcement would be difficult, but Yu Mincai, an international law expert with Renmin University, said the rule could strengthen navigation security and environmental protection.


“It is necessary for foreign vessels to report in our territorial seas in the case of possible military exercises, so that we can ask them to leave to avoid accidental incidents, which is good for both sides,” Yu said.

An international law expert with China’s Wuhan University, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the new regulation was a legal gesture by Beijing to “advocate and consolidate our claims”, especially in contested waters in the East China and South China seas.

“For the disputed waters, there needs to be a means for a claimant country to consolidate its claims, such as domestic legislation being in place to exercise effective jurisdiction,” he said.

The South China Sea has become one of many flashpoints in the testy relationship between China and the US, with Washington becoming more assertive in challenging Beijing’s claims in the resource-rich waters. Tensions have also escalated between Beijing and other claimants including Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines.

An international tribunal in 2016 found most of China’s claims in the disputed South China Sea to have no legal basis ” a verdict China said it would ignore.

Koh said the new regulation was designed to reinforce China’s position regarding territorial seas and would increase the risk of provoking a dispute with another claimant.

“It wouldn’t be just about the 12 nautical miles of territorial sea (that every country is entitled to claim) around China’s coastline ” it’s also about China’s excessive straight baselines being drawn along its mainland coast,” he said.

“It would involve Beijing exercising a law where it shouldn’t under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.”

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia. For more SCMP stories, please download our mobile app, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

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