International Law Studies


China recently enacted amendments to its 1983 Maritime Traffic Safety Law, expanding its application from “coastal waters” to “sea areas under the jurisdiction of the People’s Republic of China,” a term that is intentionally vague and not defined. Many of the amendments to the law exceed international law limits on coastal State jurisdiction that would illegally restrict freedom of navigation in the South China, East China, and Yellow Seas where China is embroiled in a number of disputed territorial and maritime claims with its neighbors. The provisions regarding the unilateral application of routing and reporting systems beyond the territorial sea violate UNCLOS. Similarly, application of the mandatory pilotage provisions to certain classes of vessels beyond the territorial sea is inconsistent with UNCLOS and IMO requirements. The amendments additionally impose illegal restrictions on the right of innocent passage in China’s territorial sea and impermissibly restrict the right of the international community to conduct hydrographic and military surveys beyond the territorial sea. China will use the amended law to engage in grey zone operations to intimidate its neighbors and further erode the rule of law at sea in the Indo-Pacific region.