New laws help China grow into maritime power

By Zhang Fang
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, March 19, 2013
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Maritime interests have gained an increasing amount of attention in Asia's largest economy, especially after the State Council announced plans to restructure the country's top oceanic administration to enhance maritime law enforcement capabilities on March 10.

Legal system reform has become a top concern for the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislative body. NPC deputies have signaled that new regulations will aid China in upgrading its maritime capabilities and secure its maritime rights and interests.

China first began to legislate its oceans in 1958, and since the 1980s the CPC has passed more than 80 sea-related laws and regulations, according to Xinhua News Agency.

"Although new laws have created positive results in the past, they are no longer sufficient to develop and safeguard maritime rights and interests in the 21st century," said deputy Dai Zhongchuan, vice dean at Fujian's Huaqiao University Law School.

Dai argued that the current Marine Environmental Protection Law needs to be revised in order to prevent further ecological damages to China's marine habitat.

Such damages are mainly caused by sea reclamation. "Sea reclamation around China's coastal cities grows over 800 square kilometers every year, damaging the self-purification capabilities of sea water," Dai said.

Local governments hope to boost their harbor economy, real estate, and coastal industries through reclamation, which may generate quick economic benefits, but if they don't consider the environment the damage can last for decades, Dai said.

Dai explained that sea reclamation changes the shape of a coastline, often turning curved seashores into a straight line. Not only does this destroy wetland areas and reduce biodiversity, it changes local ocean currents and reduces the ocean's capacity to self-purify.

In addition, oil spills and garbage dumping also contributes to sea pollution, but it only began to receive attention after the Bohai sea oil spill incident in 2010.

"The oil will not simply pollute the water and kill off fish, it will also sink down to the sea floor and damage the sea environment for decades," he added.

The Marine Environmental Protection Law was first implement in 1982 and later revised in 1999. "We need to revise the law and increase penalties for criminals who contribute to sea pollution and destruction, and increase monitoring activities of enterprises to insure that they comply with the new law," Dai said.

Territorial disputes over islands in China's South and East Sea have been cause for concern in domestic and international circles.

Jiao Nianzhi, a marine biologist at Xiamen University, has called for further legislation to protect the baseline points islands of the territorial sea based on the Island Protection Law of the People's Republic of China.

This topic deserves more attention for the government, not only because of the ecological impact of the islands, but also due to maritime jurisdiction with neighboring countries, Jiao said.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea defines exclusive economic zones (EEZs) as these extend from the edge of the territorial sea out to 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) from the baseline. Within this area, the coastal nation has sole exploitation rights over all natural resources.

Jiao said, there are more than 200 islands, islets, reefs and shoals located on the Dongsha, Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha island groups of the South China Sea, some of which form the baseline points of China's territorial sea, and if any of them are disappeared it will lead to a change in EEZs and our territory.

Moreover, China and the United States territorial ranking, which is the third or fourth, is mainly decided by the territorial sea, and that is based on the baseline points, Jiao said.

"Human destruction, climate change, natural disasters and corrosion all contribute to the destruction of islands, which will lead to their erosion within a very short time." he said.

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