Patrols in Hainan get more clout

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Police in Hainan will be authorized to board and search ships that illegally enter the province's waters in 2013, the latest Chinese effort to protect the South China Sea.

Under a set of regulation revisions the Hainan People's Congress approved on Tuesday, provincial border police are authorized to board or seize foreign ships that illegally enter the province's waters and order them to change course or stop sailing.

The full texts of the regulations, which take effect on Jan 1, will soon be released to the public, said Huang Shunxiang, director of the congress's press office.

Activities such as entering the island province's waters without permission, damaging coastal defense facilities, and engaging in publicity that threatens national security are illegal.

If foreign ships or crew members violate regulations, Hainan police have the right to take over the ships or their communications systems, under the revised regulations.

Calling the revisions "significant", Zhuang Guotu, director of the Southeast Asian Center at Xiamen University, said: "It is urgent for China to improve its legal system regarding offshore law enforcement because disputes with other countries are on the rise in the South China Sea.

"Police have clear processes laid out in the new regulations for appraising illegal activities and punishing illegal entry," Zhuang said.

The revisions also emphasized border police should strengthen the patrolling of the waters of Sansha and coordinate with the routine patrols conducted by the country.

Sansha, the newest prefecture-level city, which was established in July, administers the islands and waters of the South China Sea. The city is under the jurisdiction of Hainan.

Bi Zhiqiang, director of the legislative affairs commission of the Hainan People's Congress, said the revised regulations will strengthen offshore patrols of the waters off Hainan, protecting national maritime interests.

An insider from China Marine Surveillance told China Daily that new ships will join the South China Sea patrol fleet soon.

On Nov 12, a 3,000-metric-ton inspection ship started patrolling the Yellow Sea, and on Nov 15, another one joined the patrol fleet in the East China Sea.

All these moves show that the country is preparing itself for dealing with complicated marine disputes, said Qi Jianguo, former Chinese ambassador to Vietnam.

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