Skip to content

China’s Newly Amended Maritime Traffic Safety Law Raises Concerns

On Thursday April 29, China passed a newly amended Maritime Traffic Safety Law, over which a Taiwanese scholar expressed the concerns that Beijing is using the law to expand the gray zone of potential conflicts.

The National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s rubberstamp parliament, announced that the law will come into force on September 1.

Under Article 53 and Article 54, foreign vessels are required to report to the maritime authorities if they are submersible, nuclear powered, carry radioactive or poisonous materials or may in any other way endanger safety in navigation.

Article 92 stipulates that if a foreign ship may threaten the safety of China’s internal waters and territorial waters, the maritime authorities have the right to order it to leave. If a foreign ship violates Chinese laws and regulations on maritime traffic safety or prevention of pollution, the maritime authority may exercise the “right of hot pursuit.” The “right of hot pursuit” refers to the right of the authority of the coastal state to chase a foreign ship to the high seas, arrest those on board and bring the ship back to its port so they can face a trial. It can do this if it has sufficient reason to believe that the foreign ship has violated the laws and regulations of the state.

In addition, in the amended maritime law, China has changed the wording from the phrase “coastal waters” to “jurisdictional waters.

Su Tzu-yun, senior security analyst with Taiwan’s Institute for National Defense and Security Research, considers that both the Maritime Traffic Safety Law and the Maritime Police Law, a new law passed in January, are tools of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to claim and protect its national sovereignty and interests. The CCP is using the law to expand the gray area of conflict, and has raised concerns that this could become a loose cannon for maritime conflicts.

Su said that the Chinese government’s “jurisdictional waters” refers to “the internal waters, the territorial sea, the contiguous zone, the exclusive economic zone, the continental shelf, and other waters under the jurisdiction of the People’s Republic of China,” which it defines more broadly than “coastal waters.” However, the CCP has built many artificial islands in the South China Sea and claims that the 12 nautical miles surrounding each of them are all territorial waters, which gives the CCP an excuse to enforce the law when other countries simply carry out free navigation missions.

Source: Central News Agency, April 30, 2021