In yet another aggressive move, the Chinese government announced on Thursday that it has given border police the authority to detain and foreign board ships in disputed maritime areas.
This move has other Southeastern Asian nations almost literally up in arms. The Association of Southern
Asian Nations (ASEAN) has numerous members actively involved in maritime border disputes with China, including the Philippines and Vietnam.
The Secretary-General of ASEAN, Surin Pitsuwan expressed his concern over the move: “My reaction is [that this is] certainly an escalation of the tension that has already been building. And it is a very serious turn of events.”
State media announced that patrols from China’s southernmost province, the island of Hainan, will be allowed to board foreign ships that they deem to be in Chinese waters. The regulation allows Chinese vessels to ” board, seize and expel foreign ships illegally entering the province’s sea areas.” Of course, one can only expect these allowances to be interpreted very broadly by Chinese authority. Some of the offenses include “carrying out publicity campaigns that endanger China’s national security.”
Although the patrols have so far only chased off foreign vessels traveling in Chinese water, it paves the potential for escalation in the region because just one misunderstanding can lead to a major incident.
The disputed region of Chinese water is called the South China Sea by that country, but known in the Philippines as the West Philippine Sea. Both countries have asserted their claim to the areas– The Philippines has begun officially using the West Philippine moniker to refer to the water, while China has stoked the flames by adding the region to their territorial map on official passports.
This is an alarming step in the path to further destabilization. With China managing to many different aggression-based disputes, it is only a matter of time until a smaller country decides to make a stand. If that happens, the peace and stability of the whole region may hang in the balance.