* New Chinese rules took effect at start of year
* Follow creation of controversial air defense zone
* U.S. challenged air zone with B-52 flight
(New throughout, adds details and background; adds byline)
By David Brunnstrom
WASHINGTON, Jan 9 The United States, already at
odds with China over that country's air defense zone, said on
Thursday that new Chinese fishing restrictions in disputed
waters in the South China Sea were "provocative and potentially
The legislature of China's Hainan province approved rules in
November that took effect on Jan. 1 requiring foreign fishing
vessels to obtain approval to enter waters under its
Such a move, if broadly enforced, could worsen tensions in
the region. Beijing claims almost the entire oil- and gas-rich
South China Sea, rejecting rival claims to parts of it from the
Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam.
"The passing of these restrictions on other countries'
fishing activities in disputed portions of the South China Sea
is a provocative and potentially dangerous act," State
Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a news briefing.
"China has not offered any explanation or basis under
international law for these extensive maritime claims."
"Our long-standing position has been that all concerned
parties should avoid any unilateral action that raises tensions
and undermines the prospects for a diplomatic or other peaceful
resolution of differences."
The fishing rules followed China's creation of an air
defense identification zone in late November above the East
China Sea in an area that includes islands at the heart of a
bitter territorial dispute with Japan.
The United States responded to the declaration of the air
zone by sending two B-52 bombers into the area without informing
China. At the same time, it advised U.S. carriers to operate in
line with so-called notices to aviators issued by foreign
The State Department spokeswoman gave no indication of any
possible U.S. response to the fishing zone.
HAINAN HOME TO CHINESE CARRIER
According to the website of the Hainan legislature, foreign
fishing vessels need approval to enter from the "relevant and
responsible department" of the Chinese government's Cabinet.
Hainan is home to Chinese naval facilities that include a
purpose-built dock for the country's only aircraft carrier as
well as a base for attack submarines.
Hainan, which juts into the South China Sea from the
country's southern tip, says it governs 2 million square km
(770,000 square miles) of water, according to local government
data issued in 2011. The South China Sea is an estimated 3.5
million square km (1.4 million square miles) in size.
The Hainan rules do not outline penalties, but the
requirements are similar to a 2004 national law that says boats
entering Chinese territory without permission can have their
catch and fishing equipment seized and face fines of up to
500,000 yuan ($82,600).
Philippine Foreign Affairs Department spokesman Raul
Hernandez said Manila had asked its embassy in Beijing to get
more information on the rules.
Hainan officials were not immediately available to comment,
but Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said regulating
the use of China's marine resources was a normal practice.
"The goal is to strengthen the security of fisheries
resources and to openly and reasonably utilize and protect
fisheries resources," Hua said at a regular news briefing when
asked about the rules.
Chinese enforcement of the fishing zone could depend on the
nationality of the fishermen, said Shi Yinhong, an international
relations professor at Renmin University in Beijing.
"I think Hainan put it out to tell relevant countries we
have such a regulation, but how we practice it depends on how
bilateral relations are," Shi said.
"If ties are good, the regulation may be loose. If not, we
will practice it strictly, which means that you have to get
approval from us before entering."
China's ties with the Philippines have been especially
frosty over the South China Sea.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; addtional reporting by Manuel
Mogato in Manila and Sui-Lee Wee, Huang Yan and Megha
Rajagopalan in Beijing; Editing by Peter Cooney and David