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China’s new fishing law: An ADIZ flashback?

island-south-china-sea

16 Jan China’s new fishing law: An ADIZ flashback?

China’s new fishing regulations over a disputed swathe of the South China Sea took effect on 1 January, and were promptly criticised by the Philippines and Vietnam. The South-East Asian claimant states demanded that Beijing clarify the new law, which states that all foreign vessels seeking to fish or conduct surveys in those waters have to obtain approval from the “relevant and responsible department”.

The incident brought back memories of the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), also unilaterally declared by China over parts of the East China Sea last November. Is this the ADIZ moment for the South China Sea?

There is some reason to believe otherwise. The latest fishing law was quietly passed by the Hainan Provincial People’s Congress – rather than Beijing – some time back in 2013. It only caught the attention of the region at the start of the new year, when it came into effect. This may suggest some lack of coordination between the Hainan local government and the central government in Beijing.

Questions have also been raised on China’s ability to enforce these new regulations effectively over such a vast area. It will certainly lead observers to question Beijing’s professed commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which seeks to protect the freedom of navigation in the high seas.

The fall-out from the new fishing law is unlikely to be as drastic as the ADIZ. Some observers have opined that declaring an ADIZ is within China’s sovereign right; more than 20 other countries have an ADIZ, including the US. In any event, the US stopped short of demanding a withdrawal of the ADIZ, to Japan’s disappointment.

Nonetheless, the new fishing law has raised hackles in the region yet again, and is certain to complicate ties between China and ASEAN at a crucial time, given the ongoing consultations towards a Code of Conduct (COC) for the South China Sea. If anything, this latest incident has upped the stakes for a timely and effective conclusion of the COC negotiations.

Sources:

China’s New Fishing Regulations: An Act of State Piracy? [The Diplomat, 13 January 2014]

Philippines blasts China over new fishing law [Channel NewsAsia, 10 January 2014]