BEIJING: China has granted its border patrol police the right to board and expel foreign ships entering disputed waters in the South China Sea, state media reported on Thursday.
The move comes after Beijing issued new passports containing a map showing its claim to almost the whole of the South China Sea, infuriating its neighbours. Vietnam and the Philippines are refusing to stamp the documents.
The southern Chinese province of Hainan passed new regulations this week allowing local police "to board, seize and expel foreign ships illegally entering the province's sea areas", the state-run Global Times reported.
Activities defined as illegal by the new regulation include "illegally halting or dropping anchor... and carrying out publicity campaigns that endanger China's national security", the official Xinhua news agency said.
Hainan province administers around two million square kilometres (800,000 sq miles) of ocean waters including the Spratly islands, which are also claimed in whole or in part by the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.
The South China Sea includes some of the world's most important shipping lanes and is believed to be rich in fossil fuels.
The Global Times quoted Li Zhaojie, a professor at Beijing's Tsinghua University, as saying the regulation could lead to stricter enforcement of Beijing's right to expel ships entering its territory illegally.
Li said these rights were granted by a UN convention.
"In the past, when foreign ships broke the UN convention, the best thing our patrol could do was chase them out of China's waters. The new regulation will change that, and give the patrol force the legal means to actually do its job."
China has been accused of ramping up tensions in the area in the recent past, with the Philippines and Vietnam raising the alarm over Beijing's assertiveness.
It discourages multilateral talks on the issue and has refused to start negotiations on a code of conduct for the region, although United States President Barack Obama discussed it with Southeast Asian leaders at a summit this month.
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