SHANGHAI Dec 5 New Chinese regulations allowing
police to board vessels deemed to be trespassing off the
southern island of Hainan were a provincial-level initiative,
but Beijing likely signed off on them, an official said on
China is in an increasingly angry dispute with several of
its neighbours over claims to parts of the oil and gas-rich
South China Sea, including the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam,
Brunei and Malaysia.
China lays claim to almost the whole of the sea, which is
criss-crossed by crucial shipping lanes.
The rules passed last week by Hainan island's provincial
legislature were partly a response to an increase in Vietnamese
fishing boats operating around the Paracel islands, which both
countries claim, said Wu Shicun, head of the Hainan foreign
Vietnam on Tuesday condemned China's claims as a serious
violation of its sovereignty after saying it was setting up
patrols to protect its fisheries and accusing Chinese boats of
Wu, who also heads the National Institute for South China
Sea Studies, said the regulations were amendments to rules in
place since 1999 and had been in the works for over a year.
"It was not (initiated by Beijing). Local law enforcement
agencies started this," he told Reuters by telephone. But he
added: "They definitely would have reported these upward. They'd
definitely have sought opinions from the department in charge."
Tensions between China and the other claimants have flared
since late November over these rules as well as China's new
passports, which are imprinted with maps claiming sovereignty
over the disputed territory.
Nevertheless, Chinese and foreign policy experts have said
the two issues were not likely to be connected. And they are
sceptical as to whether the new provincial regulations in Hainan
represent a tougher stance from the central government, despite
a once-a-decade change in the ruling Communist Party's top
leadership last month.
"It's not consistent with some sort of new policy, or a
policy shift. There's no evidence that way," said Zhu Feng, a
professor at the Center for International and Strategic Studies
at Peking University.
The Hainan regulations allow border police to board and
search vessels deemed to be operating illegally in what China
considers Hainan's waters.
Hainan, which likes to style itself as China's answer to
Hawaii or Bali with its resorts and beaches, is the province
responsible for administering the country's extensive claims to
the myriad islets and atolls in the South China Sea.
"This is pointed at neighbouring countries whose intrusions
mainly around the Paracels are serious... In recent years more
and more Vietnamese fishing boats have intruded into Paracel
waters, and this is one aspect," Wu said.
"There was no (legal) basis for punishment before."
The rules, which take effect on Jan. 1, would not influence
the majority of ships passing through the South China Sea, he
"China's promises that foreign boats can enjoy freedom of
navigation in the South China Sea aren't affected one bit by
these new regulations, and they won't be affected by disputes in
the South China Sea," he said.
(Editing by Nick Macfie)