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China tightens rules in 'territorial waters'

August 2, 2016

Beijing has warned against illegal fishing in its waters, including the disputed areas in the South China Sea. Violators could face up to a year in prison, the Supreme Court said.

China Südchinesisches Meer - US-Satellitenbild Spratly Inseln
Image: Reuters/CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/DigitalGlobe

The Chinese Supreme Court defined the penalties for illegal fishing and harvesting of endangered species in a judicial interpretation on Tuesday.

The move is seen as Beijing's attempt to reassert its authority in the South China Sea, after an international tribunal ruled against China's claims on disputed waters.

In the Tuesday declaration, the Supreme Court made no direct mention of the recent ruling or its territorial claims. However, the document speaks of the "exclusive economic zone" around Chinese territory, which Beijing insists should include the areas also claimed by other countries.

"Judicial power is an important component of national sovereignty," the judges said.

"People's courts will actively exercise jurisdiction over China's territorial waters, support administrative departments to legally perform maritime management duties ... and safeguard Chinese territorial sovereignty and maritime interests."

Verdict on South China Sea

Troubled Spratly Islands

Fishermen who enter Chinese waters illegally and refuse to leave, or re-enter after being driven away, could be punished with a prison term of one year. The same applies to people who repeat their offense after paying a fine in the past year.

The courts should consider their actions to be a "serious" criminal act, according to the document.

Chinese coast guard periodically expels or detains foreign fishermen around the disputed Spratly Islands, where vessels from the Philippines, Vietnam, and other countries tend to fish. Other nations also occasionally detain Chinese fisherman in the region.

Fishing rights have been a major point in the dispute between Manila and Beijing, with the Philippines raising the issue before the arbitration tribunal. Beijing has refused to accept the ruling and claimed that the Hague court had no jurisdiction.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court invited any foreigners who believed Beijing violated their rights to take their claims to Chinese courts.

dj/kl (Reuters, AFP)