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The reporting system for foreign vessels entering and leaving China’s territorial water was added to the Maritime Traffic Safety Law which was revised in April. From Wednesday foreign ships must report ship ID and cargo information to China’s maritime administrations. Photo: Weibo

South China Sea: China demands foreign vessels report before entering ‘its territorial waters’

  • From Wednesday, foreign vessels must declare ship’s name, call sign, position and dangerous cargo
  • It comes amid escalating tension between China and rival claimants, as well as Western nations led by the US and its expanded military presence in the region
Foreign vessels entering what Beijing deems its “territorial waters” must report to China under maritime regulations meant to strengthen its claims over disputed waters, including the South China Sea.

China’s Maritime Safety Administration said that under regulations taking effect on Wednesday, vessels of foreign nationality entering China’s territorial seas must report ship and cargo information to China’s maritime administrations.

The reporting requirements applied to submersibles, nuclear vessels, ships carrying radioactive materials, ships carrying bulk oil, chemicals, liquefied gas and other toxic and harmful substances and other vessels that were considered a threat to the country’s maritime traffic safety, the administration said in a notice on Friday.

The reporting system for the vessels was included in the Maritime Traffic Safety Law when it was revised in April.

The administration’s announcement revealed further details on the reporting channel and requirements, including the foreign ship’s name, call sign, position and any dangerous goods on board.

If the vessel failed to report as required, the maritime administration would apply relevant laws, regulations, rules and provisions, it said.

The announcement comes as tensions have escalated in recent months between Beijing and rival maritime claimants, as well as Western nations led by the United States, which has expanded its military presence in the region.

Taiwan, US agree to hold regular talks on coastguard cooperation

In July, China’s military said it “drove away” a US warship it said had illegally entered Chinese territorial waters of the Paracel Islands – known in China as the Xisha Islands and in Vietnam as the Hoang Sa Islands.

The People’s Liberation Army’s Southern Theatre Command said the entry was without the approval of the Chinese government, and seriously violated China’s sovereignty and undermined the stability of the South China Sea.

Beijing claims the vast majority of the resource-rich waterway, a long-standing source of tension with other claimants in the region, including Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines.

The prior notification requirement would standardise the management of the country’s territorial waters, improving China’s ability to safeguard sovereignty and ensure safety, according to former People’s Liberation Army instructor and commentator Song Zhongping.

“The new regulation applies to China’s territorial waters – including the East China Sea, the South China Sea and China’s islands and reefs – to regulate China’s management of those territorial waters,” Song said.

“Foreign vessels must report and abide by our laws and regulations, to safeguard national sovereignty and security.”

Kang Lin, a deputy director of China’s National Institute for South China Sea Studies, said the new regulation would cover civilian ships used for military purposes.

In April, a drone ship used for intelligence gathering “by a foreign country” was found by Chinese fishermen off the country’s east coast.

The small unmanned vessel – equipped with solar panels, antennas and surveillance equipment – was hauled from the water by a fishing boat near Jiangsu province, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

“We used to put a lot of effort on the management of warships, while ignoring the supervision and management of civilian commercial ships which are under the cover of civilian commercial use, but in fact engaging in militarised intelligence collection,” Kang said.

Beijing’s focus on maritime law ‘reflects concerns over South China Sea’

The regulation does not detail penalties for non-compliance, but Kang said the maritime administration would deal with breaches according to relevant laws, including China’s coastguard law, to order them to leave immediately and use measures such as compulsory eviction.

“This announcement is to close the loopholes,” Kang said. “And of course it applies to China’s coastal waters within 12 nautical miles, but also China-claimed waters in the South China Sea.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Foreign ships entering China’s waters ‘must report’