Stronger legal protections for China’s security and rights in its territorial waters and airspace – as well as in outer space – were the subject of a military discussion panel as part of the “ two sessions ” meetings in Beijing this week. President Xi Jinping opened the discussion on Monday at a meeting of deputies from the People’s Liberation Army and the People’s Armed Police Force during the annual gathering of the National People’s Congress. “China should make more comprehensive the body of military laws and regulations that involve foreign countries, so as to better protect national interests through the use of law,” Xi told a panel on the sidelines of the legislative session. According to briefing notes released to the media, the military delegates discussed Xi’s remarks at a panel meeting the next day, including how to speed up the legislative process. Former Southern Theatre Command chief Wang Jiaocheng, a member of the NPC Standing Committee, said areas covered should include foreign trade, protection of maritime rights and interests, and outer space security “to make good use of legal weapons to maintain national security”. Former air force commander Ding Laihang told the panel legal protections could be strengthened for construction projects related to China’s global infrastructure programme, the Belt and Road Initiative . He also proposed better rights protections for China’s territorial waters and airspace “so as to provide a legal basis and rich methods and means for international rights protection”. Rocket army deputy commander Li Jun said the legislative work should be further expanded to protect overseas interests. “[We] rely on legal weapons to combat various separatist forces, behaviour and speech, so that where national interests extend, legal protection extends, to defend and protect the country’s overseas interests,” he said. PLA moves 300,000 troops from non-combat units to frontline roles: source Other armed forces delegates and military law experts said legal tools ranged from international treaties on overseas military deployments, through peacekeeping missions, to a legal justification for military action in areas of dispute, such as the South China Sea . Military law expert Xie Dan said even some operations conducted within China’s territorial sovereignty could involve foreign elements. These could include personnel, property and businesses, or foreign interference, as well as safeguarding the legal rights and interests of Chinese military personnel on foreign-related missions, he said. China and US ‘at risk of stumbling into conflict’ with military misfire China’s discussion of its military laws comes at a time of heightened tensions on several fronts. Beijing is involved in several border disputes and its deteriorating relations with the US have increased concerns of a military flashpoint. The US regularly sends aircraft carrier strike groups to the South China Sea – a move Beijing says undermines its sovereignty. The Philippines has also accused the Chinese coastguard of blocking and firing water cannons on its supply ships in the contested waterway. In the Taiwan Strait, the PLA’s activities reached a record high last year, while at the same time the US approved a US$100 million sale of military equipment and services to Taipei, further provoking Beijing. In the Himalayas, China has been locked in a border stand-off with India since 2020. Tensions between the two countries continues, after several rounds of military and diplomatic talks. The disputed Diaoyu Islands – known as the Senkakus in Japan – in the East China Sea have also led to diplomatic clashes between Beijing and Tokyo. Zhou Chenming, a researcher from the Yuan Wang military science and technology think tank in Beijing, said the increasing military activity near China by other countries was the backdrop to last week’s group discussion on legislation covering foreign-related activity. “Recently, Western countries have come to the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait more frequently, so we should respond reasonably and legally,” he said. Zhou said the discussion may also have covered China’s foreign military exchanges, which need to be restarted after they were interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. He Zhipeng, a law professor at Jilin University in northeastern China, said China’s growing international presence required a strengthening of its foreign-related military legislation. Compared to other major countries, China’s rule of law in the military field was lacking, and legislators might focus on regulating the use of force, he said. “The Chinese military is becoming more international, and it is more involved in UN peacekeeping operations and maritime rights protection operations, which will involve specific requirements and norms for when force can be used, and the use of force.” Tian Shichen, director of the Centre for International Law of Military Operation in Beijing, was another expert concerned about China’s lagging legislation compared to other major powers. He said the country needed to step up its study of the domestic application of international treaties, to better serve China’s interests. Tian also said the country needed to study and play a bigger part in the formulation of international military norms, especially in new sectors such as space, cyber and the environmental impact of operations.