China to create ‘international maritime judicial center’ amid rising sea tensions


Staff Writer

China will set up an “international maritime judicial center” in a bid to help protect its sea rights, the country’s chief justice said Sunday, a move that analysts say Beijing could use to bolster its claims in the disputed South and East China seas.

Courts across the country are working to implement a national strategy of turning the country into a “maritime power,” Chief Justice Zhou Qiang said in a report during an annual meeting of the nation’s rubber-stamp legislature, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

“(We) must resolutely safeguard China’s national sovereignty, maritime rights and other core interests. (We) must improve the work of maritime courts and build an international maritime judicial center,” Xinhua quoted Zhou as saying, without giving further details.

The move comes ahead of a highly anticipated ruling later this year by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on the Philippines’ dispute with China over the South China Sea. China has not participated in the case and said it will ignore the ruling.

Beijing lays claim to most of the resource-rich South China Sea, which is also home to key sea lanes, through which $5 trillion in global trade passes every year. Aside from the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei also have overlapping claims in the waters.

China’s increasingly bellicose moves in the South China Sea have stoked concern among its Southeast Asia neighbors as well as in Japan and the United States, which has conducted what it calls “freedom of navigation” operations in waters near disputed islands.

Beijing also claims the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which are administered by Japan and known in China as the Diaoyus.

Zhou also used the report as a chance to bolster China’s claims to those islands.

Noting one case involving the collision of a Chinese and foreign vessel in the Senkakus heard by a Chinese maritime court, Zhou said the case — which ended via mediation — “clearly demonstrated China’s jurisdiction over the region.”

He said the case involved a Chinese trawler that was damaged in a collision with a Panama-flagged cargo ship off the Senkakus in September 2014.

According to Richard Javad Heydarian, an assistant professor at De La Salle University in Manila, the international maritime legal push would likely have little impact outside of China.

“This is nothing short of another counterpropaganda ploy to provide a quasi-legal cover for China’s aggressive maritime posturing and highly controversial boycott of the ongoing arbitration case at The Hague,” Heydarian said.

“While these kinds of maneuvers may have some domestic nationalistic resonance, they have no bearing on the international community’s legal opinion on the validity of China’s behavior in adjacent waters,” he added.

Sebastian Maslow, an assistant professor at Tohoku University’s graduate school of law in Sendai, echoed this sentiment.

“The playbook the Chinese leadership appears to follow is if you can’t challenge your opponent’s claim based on established norms of international law, then challenge the norms,” Maslow said, adding that he believes the move would bolster China’s claims —  if only for domestic audiences.

In his report, Zhou also touted China’s growing global role in maritime law, claiming that some 16,000 maritime cases were concluded in Chinese courts last year — the most in the world, he said — while adding that China is also hosts the majority of the globe’s maritime courts.

But because Beijing says it is setting up the international body to protect its own national sovereignty and maritime rights, the move is unlikely to gain traction with other nations.

“That kind of partisan rationale is likely to put off other countries from regarding it as a neutral venue, preferable to the existing options of the ICJ or ITLOS tribunal,” Euan Graham, director of the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, said, referring to the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

“China appears to want to promote itself as an alternative to these institutions,” he added. “But that is problematic for the obvious reasons that many of the region’s maritime disputes involve China as a claimant.”

  • RobRoyston

    Noting one case involving the collision of a Chinese and foreign vessel in the Senkakus heard by a Chinese maritime court, Zhou said the case — which ended via mediation — “clearly demonstrated China’s jurisdiction over the region.”

  • Tachomanx

    For this thing to have the slightest bit of credibility, it will have to abide with UNCLOS and any international rulings regarding maritime disputes resolutions elsewhere in the world.

    Otherwise is just garbage and best left ignored.

  • Aussie Andrew

    Maybe they will put on trial the American navy sailor arrested for the rape of a 40 year old Japanese lady on Sunday in Naha Okinawa, it might save Abe a problem if the case was held in China and not in Japan.
    Perhaps a lot of trouble can be avoided if American troops leave Okinawa completely????

    • JB Hood

      Why not just try all U.S. issues in China court. It would save a lot of time since you already know the verdict and sentence

  • Aussie Andrew

    As China is the country regarded by the majority of people living in Northern Asia, it makes sense to have the International Maritime Judicial Centre in Beijing; certainly for cases in East China Sea, Sea of Japan, and Western Pacific north of 25 degrees N.

  • Ako Madamosiya 毛むくじゃら

    This Panda Court is the equivalent of the a Kangaroo Court and it has one objective, preserve the Nine Dash Line Claim. Which means what is mine is mine and what is yours is mine.

  • Redmond

    International institutions can only be organized through the congruence of several countries via treaties. China doesn’t know the meaning of the word “international”. How can it be International if it was only organized and staffed by people of a single country? This is absurd.

    Unless of course if China is counting on the impending dissolution or abrupt discreditability of the existing UN bodies which warrants the establishment of a new alternative, this process usually and only happens after a major worldwide conflict, the move is too premature.

    What China needs is an international psychiatric ward to rehabilitate its citizens, especially its politicians, from insanity. This is so crazy and funny. I don’t know if I have to feel angry at this kind of arrogance or feel sorry for losing their wits. Hahaha.