China’s Maritime Law Enforcement Practice in the South China Sea: Challenges and Prospects

in Legal Order in the World's Oceans
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China’s maritime law enforcement practice, after a reform integrating its several separate maritime law enforcement agencies into unified one as approved by the National Congress in 2013, is now in a good shape. The mandate of the newly established China Coast Guard includes fishery management and environmental protection and maintaining good order, especially in China’s coastal waters and Exclusive Economic Zone.

With regard to cooperation with neighboring countries in the South China Sea, one of the successful examples is the China-Vietnam joint patrols at the Gulf of Tonkin. However, challenges exist given the complexity of the dispute over the sovereignty of some features in the Spratly Islands, and overlapping jurisdictional claims over maritime space. The multilateral overlapping claims in the South China Sea results in increasing law enforcement activities by all claimant states in disputed areas, which might lead to potential conflicts and even the escalation of tension in the South China Sea. China’s Fishing Ban, with an attempt to maintain a sustainable fishery resources management and conservation, ends up with compliance only by Chinese fishermen. Another challenge comes from increasing presence and engagement of extra-regional countries, which have provided law enforcement facilities and military support to other claimant states in the South China Sea, and formed a new alliance explicitly and implicitly targeting at China, which is deemed by China as adding uncertainty to the existing disputes in the South China Sea. Under this circumstance, this paper puts forward some recommendations aiming at preventing the escalation of tension in this region arising from increasing maritime law enforcement by all claimant states. First, the claimant states should enhance cooperation among the law enforcement agencies, especially on fishery management and marine environment protection. Second, China and asean should keep moving the consultation of the Code of Conduct which serves as crisis management mechanism in the South China. Third, extra-regional states should play a constructive role and contribute to the peace and stability in this region.

Legal Order in the World's Oceans

UN Convention on the Law of the Sea


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