Posted: Thursday 1st December, 2016
China has also established rules and assigned vessels to check foreign ships, with a fresh order in July this year. Those measures are also expected to have little impact on actual traffic.
Ships and boats must get approval from regional Chinese authorities before any fishing or surveying, state media said in December 2014. The order by Hainan province in southern China took effect in January 2015 and was set to cover two-thirds of the sea.
Vessels from Vietnam and the Philippines continue to use that tract of water as before. About half the world’s marine shipping traffic also uses the South China Sea, and Beijing’s orders have not disrupted it.
But this year the Chinese Maritime Safety Administration gave an order barring foreign vessels from a 63,000 square kilometer tract near Vietnam and the Paracels for a six-day naval exercise. U.S. ships said they would not honor the block, according to a U.S. Naval Institute report.
In one of its closest calls, China sent warships to trail the U.S. Navy’s USS Lassen destroyer as it passed within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island in the Spratly chain. The U.S. ship went to show the waters were free for international use.
But Thayer said to avoid a backlash from around the region, China will not stop marine shipping crucial to the economies of East Asia.
“I don’t think anybody in Southeast Asia believes China is going to interfere with commercial navigation,” Thayer said. “China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan are just too dependent,” he said. “(If) China did something like that, it would affect the global economy. It would cause massive push back. China is really upset about military aircraft, ships, because it just claims stuff.”
This year China also built a second 10,000-ton coast guard cutter for “protecting China’s maritime rights,” the pro-Communist Party Global Times in Beijing said. The first ship began patrolling the East China Sea last year. Chinese coast guard vessels periodically travel with fishing boats for protection in the South China Sea.
China may want its rules, ships and infrastructure in place for selective, long-term use rather than to turn away every boat, said Andrew Yang, secretary general with the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies think tank in Taiwan.
“I don’t think they’re going to do that aggressively,” Yang said. “Their infrastructure construction surrounding the Paracels and other South China Sea islands are already in place. So they just wait and see and just continue to do so.”