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Indo-Pacific

China's new maritime law fines ships that violate its waters

Legal change beefs up Beijing's policing in East China and South China seas

A Chinese patrol ship sails through the East China Sea in this photo provided by the Japan Coast Guard.   © Reuters

BEIJING -- China on Thursday passed a law that imposes fines on foreign-flagged vessels for sailing in waters it claims as its own, adding more enforcement powers to its growing maritime presence.

The National People's Congress standing committee voted in favor of an amended Maritime Traffic Safety Law, which is meant to improve maritime traffic conditions and security, according to state-run Xinhua News Agency.

The legal change is China's latest move to give itself  more muscular maritime policing, following legislation that took effect in February and allows its coast guard to fire on foreign ships under certain circumstances. The seas around China are crisscrossed with conflicting territorial claims.

Under the new rules, which expand the authority of the Maritime Safety Administration, foreign ships found to be potentially hazardous to marine traffic safety will be required to report themselves before sailing through Chinese waters.

Ships found in violation will be ordered to vacate. Violators are subject to fines between 50,000 yuan and 500,000 yuan ($7,700 to $77,000). The new regulations take effect Sept. 1.

One potential flash point are the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands, which China claims and calls the Diaoyu. Japanese fishing ships operating in waters around these islands may face enforcement actions under the revised law.

The Maritime Safety Administration also has authority over "jurisdictional waters," a category that is broader than territorial waters or contiguous zones. In jurisdictional waters, the agency can establish no-passage zones at its own discretion.

Oversight over Chinese private-sector vessels will also be beefed up. The new rules require civilian ships to install Beidou satellite navigation devices and to preserve navigational data.

"The concern is that China will expand its de facto control over jurisdictional waters," said Chisako Masuo, associate professor at Japan's Kyushu University.

Meanwhile, the Maritime Safety Administration is building large patrol vessels. The first 10,000-ton class Haixun 09 is due to enter service in Guangzhou this year, according to local media. The Communist Party newspaper People's Daily reports the Haixun 09 will be capable of "global" patrol and rescue missions.

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