China is looking at proposals to pass laws to help resolve maritime sovereignty disputes with neighbouring countries, the country's top-legislating body said yesterday.
At a press conference on the nation's legislative achievements in the past 60 years, Xin Chunying, vice-chairwoman of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, was asked whether China would follow some Southeast Asian countries in legislating to protect maritime sovereignty, as proposed by some mainland experts.
Xin replied: 'We have made note of what some Southeast Asian countries have done, and we have also made note of what some mainland academics have proposed. We are researching these issues.'
Unresolved sovereignty claims in the East China Sea and South China Sea remain the biggest source of tension between China and its Asian neighbours. The May deadline for countries to submit maritime territorial claims under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) further raised the tension.
In the case of the oil-rich Spratly and Paracel islands, which also straddle some of the region's busiest ship lanes, China's sovereignty claims compete with Taiwan and several countries in Southeast Asia.
A joint declaration on the South China Sea was signed between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2002 to commit states to resolving disputes through peaceful negotiations. Nevertheless, tensions have risen in recent years. Chinese trawlers have been detained by Indonesian authorities, and China has had stand-offs with US navy vessels in what the US called 'international waters'. When the Philippines passed a law in March defining its maritime baseline, which forms the basis of claims under UNCLOS for its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, it touched a nerve in China.
Xin was the first Chinese official to speak on the issue of legislating to resolve maritime sovereignty disputes, although one expert said it was too early to comment.
'It is unclear at this stage what legislating on the issue means,' said Dr Zhang Mingliang , of Jinan University, who pointed out that China had passed the Law on Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone in 1992 and the Law on the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf in 1998.
'Maritime territory is a complicated area of law where domestic laws often clash with international laws.'