Beijing reclassifies international shipping lanes in South China Sea

China attempting to use domestic laws to justify its dubious claims in contested waters

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South China Sea (Pixabay photo)

South China Sea (Pixabay photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — China has changed how it classifies a large stretch of international waters between Hainan island and the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.

By amending a domestic shipping regulation first drafted in 1974, Beijing is attempting to classify the waters as a “coastal” region, instead of “offshore,” according to the SCMP. The reclassification went into effect on Aug. 1 and establishes a “navigation area” from China’s Hainan Island down to the disputed Parcel Islands, which lie to the east of Vietnam’s coastline, The Telegraph reported.

“The move is pretty consistent with the broader, general patterns of China seeking ‘creeping jurisdiction’ using domestic laws to assert its claims and extend control in the South China Sea,” Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, told The Telegraph.

“With those domestic laws and regulations being implemented quietly without fanfare, the less likely it’ll attract undue external attention, so that over time a fait accompli is created — in other words, for Beijing to change facts on the ground,” he said. According to Koh, the long-term risk is that China could attempt to turn the navigational zone into a “future security alert zone.”

China claims nearly all of the disputed South China Sea as its own, an area of about 3.6 million square kilometers, based on a vague nine-dash line map. In 2016, a tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration dismissed Beijing’s claim to the waters as having no merit; however, China refused to accept or recognize the ruling, according to CNBC.

While the world continues dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, China has been accused of stepping up its maritime encroachment in the South China Sea. Beijing has also been stepping up activities in the Taiwan Strait and East China Sea as well, angering Taiwan and Japan.