China will soon allow border police to board and search foreign ships that enter what Beijing considers its territorial waters in the disputed South China Sea.
In a move likely to raise regional tensions, state media say police in the southern island province of Hainan will soon be authorized to "land on, check, seize, and expel foreign ships" that enter the area illegally.
The official China Daily says "illegal" activities include entering the province's waters without permission and "engaging in publicity that endangers China's national security." It says the new rules will take effect January 1.
Hainan, China's southernmost province, administers nearly two million square kilometers of the sea. In July, the Chinese military angered its neighbors by setting up a garrison in Hainan's newly established Sansha City, in an effort to enforce its claims in the region.
Many of China's rival claimants, which include the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan, are concerned about what they see as Beijing's increasing assertiveness in defending its claims in the energy-rich South China Sea.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said in a regular briefing Thursday that China has the right to implement the new regulations.
"Carrying out maritime management according to law is the justified right of a sovereign country," said Hong.
The China Daily also said new maritime surveillance ships will soon join Beijing's South China Sea patrol fleet, which has been expanded following recent high-profile standoffs with the Philippines and Vietnam.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario on Thursday called on China to withdraw three ships from the site of an April standoff.
Del Rosario told ABS-CBN television that Beijing has not fulfilled its promise to remove its ships from the disputed Scarborough Shoal, as agreed by both countries six months ago.