China has changed the wording of a shipping regulation to identify a stretch of water between Hainan province and the Paracels Islands in the South China Sea as a “coastal” rather than “offshore” navigation area.
Observers said the move was indicative of Beijing’s drive to bring as much of the disputed waterway under its control as possible.
The word change appeared in an amended version of a regulation – drawn up in 1974 – regarding technical rules for the statutory testing of seagoing vessels. It will take effect on Saturday.
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The regulation, titled “Technical Rules for the Statutory Testing of Seagoing Vessels on Domestic Voyages” establishes the “Hainan-Xisha Navigation Area”, which is bound by two points on Hainan island – China’s most southerly province – and three in the Paracels, or Xisha as they are known in Mandarin.
Zhang Jie, an expert on the South China Sea at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the move might have been designed to strengthen the administration of Paracels using domestic laws.
“Even if this is not directly aimed at enhancing control, it has that effect,” he said.
Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, agreed.
“This might not come as a surprise, especially after Beijing announced the creation of administrative districts for the Paracels and Spratlys,” he said.
China is facing growing criticism on the world stage over its claims to almost all of the South China Sea.
Earlier this month, the United States and Australia declared those claims illegal, saying they were inconsistent with international law.
In a diplomatic note to the United Nations on Wednesday, Malaysia rebuked China for claiming Kuala Lumpur had no right to seek the establishment of its continental shelf in the northern part of the South China Sea.
The pressure from the international community comes as Beijing has sought to use domestic law to put its claims to the disputed waters into context and boost its influence in the region.
Since 2010, China has established seven new maritime courts, one of which was set up in the Hainan city of Sansha.
In 2013, Beijing centralised several maritime agencies under the new Chinese Coast Guard, and in 2017, the Supreme People’s Court announced that its jurisdiction extended to all areas under China’s “sovereign control”, including “jurisdictional seas”.
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This article South China Sea: Beijing reclassifies navigation area to increase control, experts say first appeared on South China Morning Post