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South China Sea - 2014 Developments

As of 01 January 2014 China's Hainan province required all foreign fishing vessels to ask permission to enter more than half of the 3.5-million-square-kilometer South China Sea. The new regulations adopted by China's Hainan Province on implementing the country's fishing law replaced the previous regulations that went into effect in 1993.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said there was nothing unusual about the new restrictions. "As a maritime nation it is normal and routine for China to make rules to regulate the conservation and management of maritime biological resources," said Hua. "According to international laws, universal practice and domestic laws, the Chinese government bears the right and obligation to manage the biological and non-biological resources on relevant islands, reefs and in relevant waters.... If someone asserts that the technical amendments on a provincial fishing regulation which has been implemented for years will pose a threat to regional peace and stability, it's either due to lack of common sense or out of hidden intent".

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the new restrictions run counter to efforts to resolve the disputes multilaterally. "The passing of these restrictions on other countries' fishing activities in disputed portions of the South China Sea is a provocative and potentially dangerous act," said Psaki. "China has not offered any explanation or basis under international law for these extensive maritime claims".

Vietnamese fishermen say they will ignore the new regulations. Vo Van Trac, vice chairman of the Vietnamese Association of Fishery, told VOA's Vietnamese service that they will not be kept out of waters claimed by Hanoi. "The new rules will obviously have an impact on Vietnamese fishermen, who will keep fishing in areas of the South China Sea that are within Vietnamese sovereignty".

A week of violence erupted after the state-run China energy company CNOOC towed a deep water oil rig in April 2014 to waters near the Paracel Islands claimed to be in Vietnam's exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The move of the rig was timed with President Barack Obama's four-nation Asia trip 23-29 April 2014. Vietnam said China increased the number of vessels at the area to 130 vessels, including four navy ships. Chinese and Vietnamese ships attacked each other with water cannons, raising fears of an all-out military clash.

The Philippines said 15 May 2014 China was developing land on a disputed reef in the hotly contested Spratly Islands of the South China Sea. A spokesman for the Department of National Defense confirmed that early this year, military surveillance found China involved in earth-moving activities in the area of Johnson South Reef. The reef, called Chigua by China and Mabini by the Philippines, is more than 300 kilometers west of Palawan province in the Philippines.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said 04 June 2014 that Beijing had until December 15th to submit arguments to the arbitral panel handling the Philippines case against China. But in a statement the court said it received a note from China stating it does not accept the arbitration initiated by the Philippines.

Vietnam called on the United States to take a larger role in protecting the peace and settling conflicts in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. A foreign ministry spokesman in Hanoi, Le Hai Binh, said 06 June 2014, "We hope that the U.S. will have a stronger voice and make further practical acts to contribute to protecting maritime safety and security in the region and resolving the disputes there in accordance with international law. The Vietnamese call for more US involvement came as Vietnamese ships continued to clash with Chinese ships near a controversial oil rig that Beijing placed in disputed waters in May 2014. According to Vietnamese officials, Chinese ships had sunk one of its ships and damaged 24 others, as well as injured 12 members of its fisheries surveillance force. But China accuses Vietnamese ships of being the aggressors, saying they had rammed Chinese ships 120 times since early May.

The standoff over a Chinese oil rig in disputed waters off Vietnam tested the Obama administration's pivot to Asia of military and diplomatic assets. The standoff is part of China's push back against a larger US presence in the Pacific. Thousands of Chinese workers were evacuated from Vietnam by ship following anti-China rioting in mid-May 2014 that left two people dead and more than 140 injured.

In mid-July 2014 China removed an exploratory rig from disputed waters in the South China Sea, two months after its placement near the Paracel Islands sparked diplomatic tensions with Vietnam. After finding signs of oil and gas off the coast of the archipelago claimed by both countries, the rig is being towed to the Chinese island of Hainan a month ahead of the announced end-date for drilling.




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