China is defending a move by Hainan province to require all foreign fishing vessels to seek permission before entering disputed waters in the South China Sea that are claimed by Beijing.
The new rule, which went into effect on January 1, covers more than half the 3.5 million square kilometers of the South China Sea.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying Thursday said the move is unremarkable.
He said, "China is a maritime nation, so it is totally normal and part of the routine for Chinese provinces bordering the sea to formulate regional rules according to the national law to regulate conservation, management and utilization of maritime biological resources."
Su Hao, a professor at China Foreign Affairs University, says the new rules should not be seen as a major change.
“First of all, China’s regulations of the South Sea fishing region in reality is taking a formerly customary thing and clarifying them a little bit, that’s all. Furthermore [it] lacks substantive exclusive provisions," said Hao. "In other words, [it] only stipulates that China has its own rights in these places and that Chinese law enforcement vessels can go to these places to perform regular cruises. However, that is not to say that other nation’s ships cannot go in, or that other nation’s fishermen cannot go in. It’s merely taking facts that previously existed and clarifying them, that is all.”
An official representing Vietnamese fishermen said his country will lodge a protest against China’s latest move in the disputed South China Sea.
Vo Van Trac, Vice Chairman of Vietnam Association of Fishery, told VOA's Vietnamese service that Vietnamese fishermen strongly oppose China’s rules and will continue fishing in areas in the South China Sea where Vietnam also claims sovereignty.
“The rules will obviously have an impact on our fishermen’s lives," he said. "We will ask our fishermen to keep fishing. We will tell them those areas [in the South China Sea] that are within our sovereignty. The most important thing right now is to reassure them about that”.
The Philippines, which is also likely to be affected by the new rules, has said it is seeking more information.
China's claims in the South China Sea overlap with those of ASEAN members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. All four are seeking multilateral talks to resolve the disputes. But Beijing has said it will only hold one-on-one negotiations.
The fishing rules follow China's announcement last year of a new Air Defense Identification Zone over disputed waters in the East China Sea. The zone has drawn criticism from Japan, South Korea and the United States.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Mandarin and Vietnamese services. Xu Lu and Trung Nguyen contributed from Washington.