Paracel Islands

New ministry section to handle border affairs

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 May, 2009, 12:00am

China has set up a new department under the Foreign Ministry to handle maritime and border affairs.

The development comes at a sensitive time, with tensions over territorial disputes and China's neighbours eyeing warily its naval muscle-flexing. China last month celebrated the PLA Navy's 60th anniversary and sent maritime patrol vessels to underline its claim to disputed waters in the South China Sea.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said the new department would take charge of formulating policies regarding the demarcation of China's land and maritime border. It would also be responsible for mapping and for negotiating joint development projects with China's neighbours.

'The Foreign Ministry has decided to set up the department to better serve the country's border diplomacy,' Mr Ma said.

The department is headed by Ning Fukui , a former ambassador to South Korea and a specialist in North Korean affairs, the China News Service reported yesterday.

Mr Ning's deputies, Wang Zonglai and Ouyang Yujing, are veteran diplomats in charge of land and maritime border issues, the report said.

Countries around the world are scrambling to submit demarcations of their maritime territory by May 13 to meet requirements of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Disputes with countries including Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines over parts of the South China and East China seas show signs of intensifying.

Zhai Kun , deputy director of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations' Asia and Africa Centre, said the ministry's new department pulled together official resources and would facilitate negotiation and the handling of territorial disputes.

'In the past, handling a territorial issue could involve several departments,' he said.

Professor Zhai said it usually took a long time to set up a new department, and its formation was not necessarily a result of the recent tensions in the South China Sea.

'At least it shows that Beijing has realised the importance of maritime affairs,' he said.

China has the longest land frontier in the world, covering 22,000km and bordering 14 countries. But Beijing has been dogged by territorial disputes. In the South China Sea, countries are contesting control of its rich fishing grounds and natural-gas reserves. There have been several military confrontations.

Last month Vietnam appointed a government official to the disputed Paracel Islands, to which both China and Vietnam have laid claims. Beijing lodged a strong protest.

Beijing has sent fishery patrol vessels to the area, a move that critics said was a departure from its restrained response towards maritime disputes to demonstrate its sovereignty in the area.

However, some domestic critics say the navy has shown too much restraint and is incapable of protecting China's maritime interests.

The navy sought to demonstrate its prowess and ambition for greater international clout by staging an international fleet parade in Qingdao two weeks ago to mark its 60th birthday. Naval ships from 14 countries took part, with a lot of hi-tech weaponry on show.

The navy has also openly admitted that it is considering building its first aircraft carrier.