CHINA has warned of penalties against foreigners caught violating its sovereignty over its territorial seas, including the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
State-run Xinhua news agency reported that the Chinese Supreme Court had issued a regulation stating that foreigners as well as Chinese citizens will be pursued for criminal liability if they engage in “illegal hunting or fishing or killing endangered wildlife in China’s jurisdictional seas.”
It said the regulation, which took effect on Tuesday, provides a clear legal basis for China to safeguard maritime order, marine safety and interests, and to exercise integrated management over the country’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,” a statement issued by the court said.
The judicial explanation, according to the statement, was based on Chinese law, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) and judicial practices.
According to the regulation, jurisdictional seas not only include inland waters and territorial seas but also contiguous zones, exclusive economic zones and continental shelves.
It 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.
This 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 move is seen as an attempt to provide legal cover to Chinese coast guard personnel who block and chase away Filipinos who attempt to fish at the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal despite a ruling from a United Nations arbitral court that the area belongs to the Philippines.
The shoal, also known as Bajo de Masinloc, is located 124 nautical miles northwest of Luzon. It had been a traditional fishing ground not only of Filipinos and Chinese fishermen, but also of other nationalities.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration on July 12 upheld the provisions of the 1982 Unclos that gives the Philippines the rights to areas within 200 nautical miles of its coastline.
Charles Jose, assistant secretary and spokesman of the Department of Foreign Affairs, said Manila will continue to assert its rights to the shoal.
“The tribunal made it clear in its ruling that Bajo de Masinloc is a common fishing ground. It is important that our fishermen are able to return to Bajo de Masinloc because it is about their livelihood,” he said, adding that the issue will have to be resolved in the upcoming bilateral talks with China.