Contention over South China Sea

China’s new Maritime Law


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: South China Sea

Mains level: South China Sea Dispute

China’s new maritime rules designed to control the entry of foreign vessels in what Beijing calls “Chinese territorial waters” take effect.

What is the new Maritime Law?

  • Foreign vessels, both military and commercial, will be henceforth required to submit to Chinese supervision in “Chinese territorial waters,” as per the new law.
  • Operators of submersibles, nuclear vessels, ships carrying radioactive materials, and ships carrying bulk oil, chemicals, liquefied gas, and other toxic and harmful substances are required to report their detailed information upon their visits to Chinese territorial waters.
  • Vessels that “endanger the maritime traffic safety of China” will be required to report their name, call sign, current position and next port of call, and estimated time of arrival.
  • The name of shipborne dangerous goods and cargo deadweight will also be required.

Impact of the move

  • The move is expected to have far-reaching consequences for the passage of vessels, both commercial and military, in the disputed South China Sea, East China Sea, and Taiwan Strait.
  • It is likely to escalate the existing tension with the US and its neighbors in the region.

Why is this important?

  • South China Sea: The South China Sea, which lies between China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam, is of great economic importance globally.
  • Shipping: Nearly one-third of the world’s shipping passes through its lanes, and the waters house numerous important fisheries.

Significance for India

  • The South China Sea is a critical route for India, both militarily and commercially.
  • It plays a vital role in facilitating India’s trade with Japan, South Korea, and ASEAN countries, and assists in the efficient procurement of energy supplies.
  • More than 55% of India’s trade passes through the South China Sea and Malacca Straits.
  • India is also involved in oil and gas exploration in offshore blocks in the margins of the Sea, which has led to standoffs with Chinese authorities.

The actual row

  • The waters around China are hotly contested.
  • Under a “nine-dash line” map, China claims most of the South China Sea as its sovereign territory.
  • This claim is contested by its neighbors in the region and by the United States, which, though it has no claim in the Sea, backs the smaller nations in the fight against Chinese overreach.

International position

  • Currently, international maritime activities are governed by an international agreement called the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
  • China, India, and over a hundred other countries are signatories of UNCLOS (the US, significantly, is not).
  • Accordingly, states have the right to implement territorial rights up to 12 nautical miles into the sea.
  • The UNCLOS also states that all vessels have the right of “innocent passage” through this region – China’s new law violates this.

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