South China Sea: Beijing reclassifies navigation area to increase control, experts say

South China Sea: Beijing reclassifies navigation area to increase control, experts say

  • Change to regulation drawn up in 1974 indicative of Beijing’s drive to bring as much of the disputed waterway under its control as possible
  • Country is facing growing criticism on the world stage over its claims to almost all of the South China Sea

China has changed the wording of a shipping regulation to identify a stretch of water between Hainan province and the Paracels Islands in the South China Sea as a “coastal” rather than “offshore” navigation area.

Observers said the move was indicative of Beijing’s drive to bring as much of the disputed waterway under its control as possible.

The word change appeared in an amended version of a regulation – drawn up in 1974 – regarding technical rules for the statutory testing of seagoing vessels. It will take effect on Saturday.

The regulation, titled “Technical Rules for the Statutory Testing of Seagoing Vessels on Domestic Voyages” establishes the “Hainan-Xisha Navigation Area”, which is bound by two points on Hainan island – China’s most southerly province – and three in the Paracels, or Xisha as they are known in Mandarin.

Zhang Jie, an expert on the South China Sea at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the move might have been designed to strengthen the administration of Paracels using domestic laws.

“Even if this is not directly aimed at enhancing control, it has that effect,” he said.