Chinese police plan to board, search vessels in disputed seas

Police in the southern Chinese island province of Hainan will board and search ships which illegally enter what China considers its territory in the disputed South China Sea, state media said Thursday, a move likely to add to tensions.

The South China Sea is Asia's biggest potential military trouble spot with several Asian countries claiming sovereignty over waters believed to be rich in oil and gas.

The shortest route between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, it has some of the world's busiest shipping lanes. More than half the globe's oil tanker traffic passes through it.

New rules, which come into effect on January 1, will allow Hainan police to board and seize control of foreign ships which "illegally enter" Chinese waters and order them to change course or stop sailing, the official China Daily reported.

"Activities such as entering the island province's waters without permission, damaging coastal defence facilities and engaging in publicity that threatens national security are illegal," the English-language newspaper said.

The Philippines, which also claims parts of South China Sea, said the move could violate international maritime laws allowing the right of passage and accused Beijing of trying to escalate tension in the area.

China has said in the past it will respect freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and it has no intention of trying to restrict access.

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