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China to establish maritime judicial center amid disputes

The head of China's top court said the measure aims to ensure the country's "national sovereignty, maritime rights and other core interests." The move comes as China's neighbors have contested Beijing's maritime claims.

Chinese Chief Justice Zhou Qiang on Sunday announced plans to establish an international maritime judicial center in a bid to protect national sovereignty and arbitrate maritime issues.

"(We) must resolutely safeguard China's national sovereignty, maritime rights and other core interests," noted Zhou in a report to lawmakers at the National People's Congress annual session, carried by the official Xinhua news agency.

"(We) must improve the work of maritime courts and build an international maritime judicial center," said Zhou, who heads China's Supreme People's Court.

The chief justice added that Chinese courts will work towards implementing a national strategy aimed at transforming the country into a "maritime power."

Beijing has come under scrutiny for its maritime assertions, including the construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea.

Zhou cited a case in which a Chinese fishing boat and a Panama-flagged cargo ship collided in waters near the Diaoyu Islands, which was allegedly resolved in a Chinese court. The uninhabited Diaoyu Islands are also called the Senkaku Islands, which are administered by Japan.

The chief justice's comments come as several of China's neighbors challenge Beijing's territorial claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea.

While China says it has a historic right over the South China Sea, neighboring countries such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei also claim land features in the strategic thoroughfare for international shipping.

In 2013, the Philippines brought its maritime claims against Beijing to an international court, resulting in an arbitral tribunal based in The Hague agreeing to hear the case.

The tribunal is expected to announce their ruling in May, despite China's refusal to participate in the proceedings.

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