By Kiyota Higa / Yomiuri Shimbun Correspondent
BEIJING — China intends to include provisions for blocking foreign vessels from passing through its territorial waters by substantially amending its Maritime Traffic Safety Law, which came into force in 1984, as early as this year.
This will enable China’s Transport Ministry, which overseas the maritime safety authorities, to block vessels if it determines the right of innocent passage as permitted by international law does not apply.
Behind this move is believed to be an attempt to enhance China’s maritime interests and might be used as a pretext for Chinese government vessels to increase systematic incursions of Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture.
The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, the top of China’s legislature, began deliberating on the draft amendment in late December and released its contents. According to the draft, foreign vessels entering China’s territorial waters that may threaten maritime traffic safety will be required to report to the maritime authorities, and the owners and captains of violating vessels will be fined. It also spells out the power of the maritime authorities to pursue foreign vessels that violate laws in territorial waters.
Diplomatic sources in Beijing say that China will use the amended law to strengthen its propaganda that its territorial claims have legal basis. Once the law is amended, patrol vessels of the maritime authorities are sure to increase their activities in the East China Sea and the South China Sea.
Around the Senkaku Islands, vessels of the maritime authorities might intrude into Japan’s territorial waters in coordination with the China Coast Guard vessels that have repeatedly done so.
The maritime authorities’ patrol vessels were originally tasked with maritime rescue operations and marine contamination prevention. Although they are not as well equipped as the coast guard vessels, which have autocannons and are dubbed China’s “second navy,” they have sometimes removed foreign fishing vessels in the South China Sea. After the law’s amendment, a situation could arise in which they track Japanese fishing vessels around the Senkaku Islands on the high seas.
China has been expanding the structure of its maritime authorities in recent years. According to the state-run Xinhua News Agency, there were five patrol vessels of 1,000 tons or more as of January last year, but the first 10,000-ton class patrol vessel, the Haixun 09, was launched in the southern city of Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, in September.
In China, the Maritime Safety Administration under the Transport Ministry is responsible for maritime traffic safety administration and instructs local maritime safety bureaus.
The Xi Jinping administration is also expected to pass a coast guard law possibly by the end of this year to allow the China Coast Guard to use force. The new law is expected to be used in combination with the amended Maritime Traffic Safety Law to strengthen the assertion of territorial rights and maritime interests.