China passes new rules to prosecute trespassers in its territorial waters

Analysts say these new rules might create fresh conflicts if China tries to stop the American military ships from entering its territorial waters.

China's highest court announced that if any foreign operated vessel trespasses repeatedly into its 12 nautical mile territorial waters despite warnings, it could face prosecution and up to a year's jail.

Chinese citizens and foreigners convicted of "serious" illegal activities like unlicensed fishing or wildlife poaching in Chinese waters will have to face the same punishment. The restricted waters also include the 200 nautical miles Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs).

China's new rules were released on Monday and took effect on Tuesday. The new rules were fixed soon after a ruling on July 12 by an international tribunal that rejected Beijing's vast claims in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

The Supreme People's Court issued a statement on Tuesday saying it passed two judicial interpretations to clarify China's jurisdiction and enforcement in "Chinese-controlled" waters, including internal seas, territorial seas, contiguous zones, EEZs and continental shelves.

The statement said, "Judicial power is an important component of national sovereignty. The people's courts will actively exercise jurisdiction over China's territorial waters, support administrative departments to legally perform maritime management duties... and safeguard Chinese territorial sovereignty and maritime interests."

The Straits Times quoted a court spokesman saying in an interview with reporters that the work of drafting the rules started last year, in accordance with Chinese law, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and judicial practices.

Professor Fu Kuncheng, director of Xiamen University's South China Sea Institute told The Straits Times that these rules have "nothing to do with the tribunal ruling" and it is targeted to set a national policy and standard.

However, the analysts think that the new rules are not only linked to the tribunal outcome but also to the nation's aspiration to become a maritime power and a maritime judicial centre.

They also believe that these trespassing rules might create new conflicts if China tries to stop the American military ships which have conducted freedom of navigation (FON) patrols within 12 nautical miles of Chinese-controlled reefs in the South China Sea for a long time.