GS Paper - 2 (International Relations)

From 1 September 2021, China’s new maritime rules designed to control the entry of foreign vessels in what Beijing calls “Chinese territorial waters” take effect. The move is expected to have far-reaching consequences for passage of vessels, both commercial and military, in the disputed South China Sea, East China Sea and Taiwan Strait, and is likely to escalate the existing tension with the US and its neighbours in the region.

What is the new law?

  1. Foreign vessels, both military and commercial, will be henceforth required to submit to Chinese supervision in “Chinese territorial waters,” as per the new law.
  2. The country’s Maritime Safety Administration, said that “operators of submersibles, nuclear vessels, ships carrying radioactive materials and ships carrying bulk oil, chemicals, liquefied gas and other toxic and harmful substances are required to report their detailed information upon their visits to Chinese territorial waters”.
  3. The South China Sea, which lies between China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam, is of great economic importance globally.
  4. Nearly one-third of the world’s shipping passes through its lanes, and the waters house numerous important fisheries.
  5. It is also a critical route for India, both militarily and commercially. The South China Sea plays a vital role in facilitating India’s trade with Japan, South Korea and ASEAN countries, and assists in the efficient procurement of energy supplies.
  6. In fact, the Ministry of External Affairs estimates that more than 55% of India’s trade passes through the South China Sea and Malacca Straits.
  7. India is also involved in oil and gas exploration in offshore blocks in the margins of the Sea, which has led to standoffs with Chinese authorities.

International position

  1. Currently, international maritime activities are governed by an international agreement called the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) of which China, India and over a hundred other countries are signatories (the US, significantly, is not).
  2. Accordingly, states have the right to implement territorial rights up to 12 nautical miles into the sea.
  3. The UNCLOS also states that all vessels have the right of “innocent passage” through this region – China’s new law violates this.