China to jail foreign fishermen who ply trade in sovereign waters

Previously, they would be driven out after their boats and gear confiscated but new judicial interpretation allows for one year sentence

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 August, 2016, 1:36am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 August, 2016, 1:36am

People who are caught illegally fishing in Chinese waters could face up to one year in jail, China’s top court said on Tuesday in an apparent attempt to enforce maritime sovereignty amid territorial tensions with neighbours.

The Supreme People’s Court interpretation came following the ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, that China had violated the fishing rights of the Philippines by preventing its citizens from fishing in the South China Sea. Beijing has refused to accept the ruling.

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According to the new jurisdictional interpretation, which came into effect on Tuesday, foreign vessels and their crews illegally entering Chinese waters – including China’s contiguous zones, exclusive economic zones and continental shelves – had been involved in crimes and could face trial, Professor Wang Hanling of the Chinese Academy of Social Science said.

Now [authorities] know clearly what to do when illegal fishermen enter the waters
Wang Hanling, professor, Chinese Academy of Social Science

“When it came to illegal fishing by foreign fishermen before, we usually just drove them out, or, in some serious cases, confiscated the goods or fishing tools but finally would let them go rather than taking them to court,” Wang said.

“Now [Chinese courts and law enforcement officials] know clearly what to do when illegal fishermen enter the waters.”

Though the supreme court did not directly mention the South China Sea or the Hague ruling, Wang, a maritime law expert, said that such an interpretation was needed.

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He said that China now faced an increasingly complicated situation where it was defending its resource-development and maritime rights in a disputed region.

An unnamed spokesman for the supreme court told Xinhua that the new interpretation would support government departments in legally performing maritime-management duties, and safeguard Chinese territorial sovereignty and maritime interests.

Previously, foreign fishing vessels were usually driven out of disputed areas by Chinese coastguard boats. Under the new interpretation, people who illegally entered Chinese territorial waters and refused to leave, or who re-entered after being driven away or fined in the previous year, would be seen as having committed “serious” criminal acts and could get up to a year in jail and face fines, the ­supreme court said.

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Similar penalties could also be imposed on those who illegally harvest corals or endangered rare wildlife in Chinese waters.

Fishing disputes have been increasing among the nations locked in territorial disputes in the South China Sea, including China, the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia