After several controversies with the Trump administration, China is set to bar foreign ships from select nations that undermine its sovereignty.
While Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential election was largely greeted with optimism from the Chinese government, things have devolved quite rapidly since then. Various incidents, from Trump’s phone call to the Taiwanese president to his open questioning of the one-China policy, have sparked controversy after controversy in Sino-American relations. More recently, the Trump administration issued a joint statement with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe that supported Japan’s claim to the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea, a move that directly called Chinese national and regional sovereignty into question. While Trump’s advisors have asserted that these foreign policy “gaffes” are really part of a strategy to give Trump a negotiating advantage by making him “unpredictable,” it seems that these tensions are starting to have an effect and are propelling China to act.
According to China’s People’s Daily, China has moved to limit foreign naval presence in and around Chinese waters, particularly in the disputed waters of the South and East China Sea. The Chinese government is set to revise the 1984 Maritime Traffic Safety Law in order to allow authorities to “bar some foreign ships” from passing through Chinese territorial waters. Wang Xiaopeng, a maritime border expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that
“As a sovereign State and the biggest coastal State in, for example, the South China Sea, China is entitled to adjust its maritime laws as needed, which will also promote peace and stable development in the waters.”
The draft of the revised maritime law also suggests other changes as well. Foreign submarines would be required to travel on the surface, display the flags of their nation of origin, and report to Chinese maritime authorities as they pass into Chinese waters. Foreign vessels would also be required to apply for approval to enter Chinese waters in the first place, with failure to do so resulting in steep fines of 300,000-500,000 yuan ($43,706-72,844) and expulsion from Chinese territory. Yang Cuibai, a professor with the School of Law at Sichuan University, told the People’s Daily that “China’s waters are open to foreign ships as long as they do not damage the waters’ safety, order, or China’s sovereignty.” However, those in distress would maintain the right to be rescued at sea free of charge as the draft version of revised law notes that human lives come first.
The South China Sea, in particular, has been an international hot-spot as China and several other nations claim certain island’s as their sovereign territory. While the Obama administration challenged Chinese claims to these islands on more than one occasion, the Trump administration has taken a much stronger stance with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson saying that “we’re going to have to send China a clear signal that first the island-building stops and second your access to those islands is also not going to be allowed” at his Senate confirmation hearing. In addition, Steve Bannon, Trump’s controversial chief strategist, said in March of last year that a U.S. military conflict in the South China Sea was inevitable and would likely happen within the next five to ten years. Despite Trump’s best efforts to remain “unpredictable,” it seems that China – instead of being caught off guard – has decided to openly prepare for the worst.
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