Deputies call for a law of the sea

By Wu jiao (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-03-15 07:29
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BEIJING - A senior Chinese navy official has called on the country to set up a basic law of the sea to combat the rampant infringement of maritime sovereignty.

Zhang Deshun, former deputy chief of staff of the PLA navy, said China, despite possessing a vast sea territory, for decades has lacked a national law to guide its now scattered and inefficient efforts to develop marine resources and protect its maritime interests.

As a nation with about 3 million square kilometers of sea territory, China has rich ocean resources and owes its economic prosperity largely to trade via sea routes.

However, several different government agencies have been in charge of sea-related policies, including fishing, patrolling and tapping resources, but they have not communicated closely with one another, leading to deficiencies in safeguarding maritime interests and protecting the sea environment.

According to Zhang, more than 400 of the country's islands and reefs have disappeared during the past two decades due to human-induced factors such as sea reclamation and erosion.

"In addition, 51 of our islands and reefs have been occupied by other countries; our maritime resources have been stolen; and the maritime environment has been destroyed," said Zhang.

In contrast, Japan has spent billions of dollars raising coral on small reefs 1,000 km away from its land, and reinforcing the reefs with concrete to use them in support of efforts to expand its exclusive economic zone, according to Zhang.

"A basic law of the sea is vital because it provides a national framework for taking unified and comprehensive measures to promote the development of maritime resources and to ensure maritime safety," said Zhang. The main content of the law is to make clear the goal and strategy of sea development, map a detailed blueprint and set up an agency to take charge of the role now scattered among several different agencies, he said.

According to Zhang, the law will complement relevant international conventions and laws, and will override other sea-related laws China has established. Zhang made the remarks in a recent interview with China Daily during the annual session of the 11th National People's Congress (NPC), which concluded on Monday in Beijing.

Recent disputes between China and neighboring countries over territorial claims in the East China Sea and the South China Sea have made sea protection a major concern of many NPC deputies at the 2011 political meeting.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which stipulates a 12-nautical mile (22 km) territorial limit and a 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone, came into effect in 1994 and China ratified it in 1996. Yet the convention is quite vague in some aspects and has given rise to disputes over maritime territory. It is also not binding on the activities of foreign vessels.

"China's basic law of the sea should fill in the blanks in global regulations to provide legal grounds for our battle to protect our maritime rights," said Li Danni, another PLA delegate at the 11th National People's Congress.

Li also urged that the law combat maritime crimes in Chinese sea areas. "China should set up a comprehensive maritime governing body to coordinate different ministries on sea-related affairs and set up an efficient maritime law-enforcement team," said Li.

Cao Dongsheng, Rear Admiral and also a naval commander, is one of the 56 NPC delegates who signed for the motion raised by Zhang.

According to Cao, the legislation will provide a lawful basis for handling disputes with neighboring countries on sea-related issues.

Citing the case in which Japan used domestic law to handle the collisions between two Japanese military patrol vessels and a Chinese fishing boat last September, Cao said China lacks a similar basic law of the sea.

Similar motions raised by Chinese legislators on the urgency of having a basic law of the sea have been submitted to the Foreign Affairs Committee under the 11th National People's Congress in past years.

China Daily