China considering making foreign submersibles travel on surface

BEIJING (Reuters) - China is considering revisions to its maritime safety law which would make foreign submersibles travel on the surface and report their movements to authorities when in China’s waters, state media said.

FILE PHOTO: Crew members aboard the VOS Raasay recover U.S. and British Royal Navy ocean gliders taking part in the Unmanned Warrior exercise off the northwest coast of Scotland on October 8, 2016. Courtesy Santiago Carrizosa/U.S. Navy/Handout/File Photo via REUTERS

China set off a dispute with the United States in December when a Chinese naval vessel took a U.S. underwater drone in the disputed South China Sea, though China later returned it.

The draft revisions, reported by the official China News Service late on Tuesday, make no direct mention of the South China Sea.

“Foreign submersibles, passing though territorial waters of the People’s Republic of China, should travel on the surface, raise their national flag, and report to Chinese maritime management administrations,” the news service cited the draft revision as saying, without giving details.

The draft will also allow Chinese maritime authorities to stop foreign ships entering Chinese waters if the ships are judged to be a possible cause of harm to navigational safety and order, the China News Service said.

China claims a large part of the South China Sea, and has been constructing artificial islands and boosting its military presence in the waterway.

Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei also claim parts of the waters, that command strategic sea lanes and have rich fishing grounds along with oil and gas deposits.

China has a separate dispute with Japan over a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.

China has repeatedly said it is committed to freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, and has been upset with the U.S. military for carrying out freedom of navigation operations close to Chinese-controlled islands.

The China News Service said the revisions to the law were based on the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea and Chinese laws on the sea, adjacent areas and exclusive economic zones.

The revisions will “increase the basic system of managing foreign ships entering and exiting territorial waters, inoffensive passage, right of hot pursuit and expulsion”, it added.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel