India watching ‘escalatory’ China maritime step

China's decision to empower the Hainan police to mount foreign ships and seize vessels, if necessary, in the disputed waters of the South China Sea has raised concerns in New Delhi over the new Chinese leadership's approach.

Beijing's action follows the controversy over depicting China's territorial claims, including in India, through dotted lines in new Chinese passports.

Insiders said the latest Chinese move is clearly "escalatory", and India would watch the situation closely until final rules are issued on January 1, also the date on which the rules will be made effective. This will also weigh on New Delhi's mind as National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon prepares to leave for China on Sunday to engage with members of the new regime.

From what has appeared in the Chinese media, the new regulations identify six activities as illegal — including dropping anchor on the islands under the jurisdiction of Hainan province, damaging coastal defence facilities or facilities for production and living, and carrying out publicity campaigns that endanger China's national security.

Police can "land on, check, seize and expel foreign ships illegally entering the island province's sea areas". They will be empowered to use necessary measures to stop ships or "to force them into changing or reversing course".

Sources said the first message is to the Philippines, which has been threatening to send its ships to the disputed islands in the South China Sea, and even drop anchor. Usually, the Chinese approach has been to chase away any boats entering its claim areas, but after this regulation, the patrol force can land on the boat, seize it and arrest its crew.

Hainan province covers the area where Vietnam has given India the oil block numbered 128. India recently got a two-year extension on the lease, despite not having started exploration.

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