The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Wednesday reminded China that it cannot conduct regular patrols in territories beyond its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Raul Hernandez, Foreign Affairs spokesman, said that based on international law, China’s EEZ cannot extend beyond 200 nautical miles from mainland China and the Hainan Island, whose jurisdiction falls over the disputed region.
“Coastal states have sovereign rights over their EEZ,” Hernandez said. “Also under international law, there is a high seas area in the South China Sea over which no state can exercise sovereignty,” he added.
The official’s statement came after a Chinese media reported that Beijing will begin deploying regular patrols on the disputed waters that is being claimed in whole by China, and in part by the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam.
This was amid Beijing’s declaration of an air defense zone over the disputed East China Sea, which Japan also claims, and a new regulation in the West Philippine Sea that requires foreign vessels to seek permission from the Hainan Provincial Congress.
The international community has called on China not to change the status quo in the region, and to defer from taking any actions that would escalate the tensions in the resource-rich region.
China will set up new civilian patrols with a 5,000-ton vessel in the disputed South China Sea, state-run media said on Tuesday, in another move that could inflame territorial disputes.
Beijing claims much of the waters and has put a vast swathe of it under the administration of Sansha city, in the contested Paracel islands, which also hosts a military garrison.
The intent was to “safeguard national sovereign rights and benefits, develop at-sea assistance, ensure navigational safety” among other reasons, the report said.
Even minor moves by China that appear to assert territorial claims can provoke a regional reaction, as the Asian giant is engaged in disputes with several neighbors, including an escalating row with Japan over islands in the East China Sea which has raised fears of unintended conflict.