China calls for ‘people’s war at sea’

Raising its pitch over tensions on the disputed South China Sea, China today called for preparations for a “people’s war at sea” to counter offshore security threats while its top court warned foreigners of criminal liability for violations of its maritime rights.

Chinese Defence Minister General Chang Wanquan has warned of offshore security threats and called for substantial preparation for a “people’s war at sea” to safeguard sovereignty.

Speaking during an inspection of national defence work in coastal regions of east China’s Zhejiang Province, Chang called for recognition of the seriousness of the national security situation, especially the threat from the sea, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Chang said the military, police and people should prepare for mobilisation to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

His comments followed verdict of international tribunal on July 12 that struck down China’s claims over the South China Sea and raised tensions between China and Japan over the disputed islands in the East China Sea.

Two days ago while addressing a reception to celebrate 89th founding anniversary of the 2.3 million-strong People’s Liberation Army (PLA), China said it will “staunchly” protect the country’s maritime rights and interests and is “fully confident and capable of addressing various security threats and provocations”.

The PLA will “unswervingly safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests including territorial integrity and maritime rights and interests,” Chang had said.

“It will always stand ready to be called upon and be able to fight and win,” he said.

Meanwhile, China’s Supreme Court today issued a regulation to reaffirm its jurisdiction over the country’s territorial seas and warned Chinese and foreigners of criminal liability for violations like illegal fishing, Xinhua reported.

The explanation provides clear legal basis for China to safeguard maritime order, marine safety and interests, and to exercise integrated management over the country’s jurisdictional seas, it quoted a statement by Supreme People’s Court (SPC) as saying.

The regulation, taking effect on Tuesday, stated that Chinese citizens or foreigners would be pursued criminal liability if they were engaged in illegal hunting or fishing, or killing endangered wildlife in China’s jurisdictional seas.

“People’s courts will actively exercise jurisdiction over China’s territorial waters, support administrative departments to legally perform maritime management duties, equally protect the legal rights of Chinese and foreign parties involved and safeguard Chinese territorial sovereignty and maritime interests,” it said.

The judicial explanation, based on Chinese law, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and judicial practices, further clarifies China’s maritime jurisdiction, the statement said.

According to the regulation by the SPC, jurisdictional seas not only include inland waters and territorial seas, but also cover regions including contiguous zones, exclusive economic zones and continental shelves.

The regulation also addresses Chinese citizens or organisations engaged in fishing in fishing zones or the open sea under co-management between China and other countries, according to signed agreements.

The interpretation specifies the standard of conviction and punishment for illegal marine fishing – those who illegally enter Chinese territorial waters and refuse to leave after being driven away, or who re-enter after being driven away or being fined in the past year, will be considered to have committed “serious” criminal acts and will be fined and sentenced to less than a year of imprisonment, detention or surveillance, it said.

The penalty also applies to those who illegally enter China’s territorial seas to fish but do not engage in “illegal fishing” under the law, it said.

“The explanation offers legal guarantees for marine fishing law enforcement,” defining punishments for fishing without a license in order to encourage legal fishing, the statement said, adding that it also promotes judicial assistance and international cooperation on marine affairs.

The SPC move is seen as an attempt to provide legal cover to China’s maritime claims over all most all of the South China Sea (SCS) in the backdrop of the judgement of the tribunal appointed by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, (PCA) quashing China’s nine-dash line claim over the SCS.

It also upheld the Philippines rights over the area claimed by Manila.

China has rejected the tribunal verdict delivered in response to the Philippines’ petition, which the PCA said is binding.

While Beijing said the tribunal’s verdict was null and void as it is illegally constituted, today’s regulation by the top Court was expected to provide a legal cover for Chinese military and coast guard to effectively implement China’s claims over nearly 90 per cent of the SCS and back the rights of its fishermen to continue fishing in the areas.

Besides the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan contests China’s claims over the area with counter claims.

The Court regulation followed assertions by the Chinese military to protect the country’s maritime rights and interests in the backdrop of increasing tensions over the SCS after an international tribunal struck down Beijing’s claims.

Source: Deccan Herald