Beijing: In a move that could escalate tensions between China and some of its neighbours in the South China Sea, Beijing has authorised its border police to board and search ships entering the area it considers as its territorial waters.
Asked about a report in the state-run China Daily that police in southern Chinese island of Hainan will be authorised to board and search ships that "illegally enter the province`s waters" from January, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei told a media briefing here today that "China has every legitimate right over its territorial area".
To another question about the Philippine government`s call for the three Chinese ships in the local area of Hainan Islands to be removed, Hong said, "China has every right for its ships to been in its territorial waters, it is a normal course".
Besides the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have disputes with China over the disputed islands in the South China Sea as well as the extent of territorial waters.
China virtually claims entire South China Sea in the Pacific as part of its territorial waters from ancient times and asserted its claims by printing the disputed portions on a map in the new e-passports being issued to its citizens.
The Philippines and Vietnam have raised objections over the maps and declined to grant visas to the holders of those passports.
India, in a counter move has been stamping the visas with a seal of Indian maps to counter Chinese claims over Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin.
Vietnam has began issuing visas on separate piece of paper like the way China did in 2009 in the case of residents of Jammu and Kashmir and later retracted following India`s objections.
The China Daily report said, under a set of regulation revisions the Hainan People`s Congress yesterday authorised provincial border police to board or seize foreign ships that illegally enter the province`s waters and order them to change course or stop sailing.
The full texts of the regulations, which take effect on January 1, will soon be released to the public, Huang Shunxiang, director of the congress`s press office said.
Activities such as entering the island province`s
waters without permission, damaging coastal defence facilities, and engaging in publicity that threatens national security are illegal, the daily report said.
If foreign ships or crew members violate regulations, Hainan police have the right to take over the ships or their communications systems, under the revised regulations.
China has already created Sansha city to be set up in the disputed islands and announced a new military set up in the back drop of its disputes countering the claims of the Philippines and Vietnam.
The aggressive Chinese move both in South China Sea and East China Sea over islands disputed with Japan was reported to be the initiatives of the hardliners in Chinese military and public security bureaus.
The new moves came in the backdrop of once-in-a-decade leadership change in China this month.
Vice President Xi Jinping has taken over as both General Secretary of the ruling Communist Party and head of the military from the outgoing leader Hu Jintao.
Xi would take over as the President when Hu formally retires in March next year.
Officials say that any changes in China`s policy could be seen only after that.
Bi Zhiqiang, director of the legislative affairs commission of the Hainan People`s Congress, said the revised regulations will strengthen offshore patrols of the waters off Hainan, protecting national maritime interests.
An insider from China Marine Surveillance told China Daily that new ships will join the South China Sea patrol fleet soon.
All these moves show that the country is preparing itself for dealing with complicated marine disputes, Qi Jianguo, former Chinese ambassador to Vietnam said.