This is indeed bad news not only for the Philippines but also for our ASEAN neighbors who are claiming part and parcel of the South China Sea territory based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of the world’s oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources.
Following Beijing’s announcement of a new Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea, where China is locked in a bitter territorial dispute with Japan, Beijing has now turned its sights towards the South China Sea asserting its control in what it strongly claim is theirs, based on historical records (whatever that means), by implementing rules on foreign fishing in the area.
The new rules demand that foreign vessels seek permission to fish or survey within waters administered by Hainan, China’s southernmost island province, which looks out over the South China Sea.
On the pretext that there is “rampant infringement by foreign fishing vessels” in the area, which not only serve as sea lanes for international vessels, but also seen as having a vast oil and gas reserves, Beijing is now beefing up its police powers in the disputed South China Sea.
As a prelude to this, authorities in the provincial city of Sansha, on an island far south of Hainan, held a joint drill Jan. 1 involving 14 ships and 190 personnel from various border patrol and law enforcement agencies.
Beijing has moved systematically to put teeth behind its island claims, setting up the Sansha city administration in 2012 to administer the scattered, lightly populated region of island groups and reefs.
While it would be nearly impossible to enforce the rule over such a vast area, the requirement seems to emphasize China’s determination to compel foreign nations to take its sovereignty claims seriously.
Chinese law allows for the confiscation of catches and fishing equipment and fines of up to 500,000 yuan ($83,000) for violators.
If this is not bullying and intimidation at its highest, I do not know what is.
China’s tightening of the screws in the South China Sea surely does not augur well, not only for the Filipino fisherman’s livelihood, but more so for peace and stability in the ASEAN region.