Monday, December 3, 2012

Philippines attacks Chinese maritime law

Finacial Times Decb.2,2012

The Philippines has criticised China for expanding the powers of its maritime police, in a move that has further inflamed tensions over the South China Sea.
Manila urged Beijing to “immediately clarify” its plan to allow Chinese maritime police to intercept ships in the South China Sea, where China, Vietnam, Brunei, the Philippines, Taiwan and Indonesia have conflicting territorial claims.
The Philippines foreign ministry on Saturday said the new powers – if accurately reported – would constitute a “gross violation” of legal agreements on the South China Sea and a “direct threat to the international community”.
Tensions over the South China Sea, which is believed to hold vast oil and gas resources and is home to a third of the world’s shipping activity, have risen steadily this year. Last week, Surin Pitsuwan, outgoing secretary-general of the 10-member Association of South-east Asian Nations, warned that the area risks becoming “Asia’s Palestine”.
The new Chinese regulations, which were summarised in state-run media and come into force on January 1, allow maritime police in Hainan province to board and detain ships that are carrying out “illegal activities”, such as entering Chinese waters without permission and carrying out “publicity campaigns”.
The Chinese navy already had the right under Chinese law to board foreign vessels in Chinese waters. But the new law extends this power to domestic maritime police vessels as well, said Li Jinming, a professor at Xiamen University’s Maritime Studies Center. “Previously China has always used its navy, not its maritime police, for these types of activities,” he said.
Taiwan and India also voiced concern, with Taipei calling on Beijing to exercise more “self-restraint” after the new rules were published.
Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, a China expert at the International Crisis Group, said the law was “part of an overall strategy by Beijing to more forcefully defend its sovereignty claims through legal, economic and operational means”.
She said the measure appeared to apply mainly “to the activities of foreign ships within Hainan’s 12-nautical mile territorial seas”, but vague language in the summaries suggested that it may extend beyond that.
The statement from Manila is the latest irritant in increasingly strained relations between China and the Philippines, which figured in a prolonged maritime stand-off in April over the Scarborough Shoal, a rich fishing ground in the South China Sea.
Last week, the Philippines, Vietnam and India protested at Beijing’s decision to include the controversial nine-dash line map it uses to demark its maritime claims in new Chinese passports.
Manila said it will no longer stamp its visas on the Chinese passport but will instead stamp it on a separate visa application form.

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