U.S., Philippines Say China Fishing Rules Threaten Stability

The U.S. and Philippines criticized China for threatening stability in the South China Sea after it introduced fishing rules requiring foreign vessels to seek permission before entering waters off its southern coast.

The area covered by the rules introduced Jan. 1 extends into waterways where China has territorial disputes with other Asian countries including the Philippines and Vietnam. Spats involving fishing and exploration boats have already raised tensions in the area, where there is competition for fish, gas and oil.

“The passing of these restrictions on other countries’ fishing activities in disputed portions of the South China Sea is a provocative and potentially dangerous act,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington yesterday. “China has not offered any explanation or basis under international law for these extensive maritime claims.”

China’s action is the latest effort in its campaign to assert greater control over the air and seas off its coast and follows a dispute with the U.S., South Korea and Japan over the declaration of an air defense identification zone over the East China Sea in November.

The Philippines government is “gravely concerned” about the rule, which violates international law, the foreign affairs department said in a statement today.

“This development escalates tensions, unnecessarily complicates the situation in the South China Sea and threatens the peace and stability of the region,” the statement said.

Taiwan has rejected the new rules and fishermen are proceeding as normal without declaring themselves, deputy minister of mainland affairs Wu Mei-hung said at a briefing yesterday. Wu called for reduced tensions in the South China Sea where China claims the Paracel and Spratly islands, parts of which are also occupied or claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.

‘Technical Revisions’

Amendments to legislation passed by China’s Hainan province in November are technical revisions to fishing rules that have been in place for years, China Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing today. She said anyone who suggested the changes would cause tension and threaten stability in the region had ulterior motives.

“If the U.S. is sincere about promoting stability in the South China Sea region, it should respect and support countries involved to resolve the issue through dialog and negotiations,” Hua said. “The U.S. should be careful with its action and it should play a constructive role in promoting peace and stability in the South China Sea region and should avoid sending a wrong signal.”

Under the legislation, trespassers could face confiscation of fishing equipment and fines of 500,000 yuan ($83,000), China News Service reported Nov. 29.

The South China Sea is estimated to have as much as 30 billion metric tons of oil and 16 trillion cubic meters of gas, which would account for about one-third of China’s oil and gas resources, according to China’s official Xinhua News Agency.

Taiwan Claim

The waterways have always been part of the territory of the Republic of China, Wu said yesterday, referring to Taiwan’s formal name. Taiwan has been self-governing since Nationalist forces fled to the island in 1949 during a civil war for control of China.

The Philippines government is reaching out to its embassies in Beijing and Hanoi to verify reports that foreign fishermen need China’s permission to navigate the waters, including disputed seas, foreign affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said yesterday in a mobile-phone message. A year ago, the Philippines asked a UN-backed tribunal to rule on its sea disputes with China and, in May, it accused Chinese boats escorted by their navy of fishing inside its territorial waters.

Officials from foreign ministries of China and Vietnam started the first round of negotiations in Beijing on Jan. 8 on joint development on the sea, the official Xinhua News Agency reported yesterday. The two sides hope to have substantial cooperation after the two nations reached an agreement in 2011 aiming to resolve sea disputes, Xinhua said.