Border patrol police in Hainan Province, which governs a majority of the South China Sea, were given the power on Tuesday to board and check ships that illegally enter its waters.
The police can board, seize and expel foreign ships illegally entering the province's sea areas, and border police are entitled to use these measures to stop ships from illegally entering or to force them into changing course, the new regulation said.
The regulation defines six illegal activities of foreign ships and crews. These include illegal landing on islands under the jurisdiction of Hainan, damaging coastal defense facilities or facilities for production and living, and carrying out publicity campaigns that endanger China's national security.
The new regulation will provide a legal basis for China's administrative forces to carry out measures defending China's maritime sovereignty.
"According to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, foreign ships are only allowed to make inoffensive passage through China's territorial waters, meaning they can neither stop nor drop anchor," said Li Zhaojie, a maritime law professor from Tsinghua University.
"In the past, when foreign ships broke the UN convention, the best thing our patrol force could do was chase them out of China's waters. This new regulation will change that situation and grant the patrol force the legal means to actually do its job," Li said.
According to Li, many countries rely on their domestic law to exert their maritime sovereignty, and this new regulation showed that China will strengthen the construction of its maritime law in the near future.
"The power granted by the international convention must be reflected in the domestic legal system. Past maritime conflicts in the South China Sea have exposed the deficiencies in China's maritime law system and the new regulation is aimed at fixing those problems," Li added.
But China's move to establish domestic laws and regulations in the sea will inevitably lead to resistance from countries that have disputes with China regarding related sea areas, said Zhu Zhenming, deputy director of the Southeast Asia Research Institute affiliated with the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences.
"China must be prepared for all kinds of consequences, from diplomatic spats to administrative measures, and even possible military confrontation," Zhu said. "On the other hand, China should be more vocal in expressing its preference in solving the disputes in line with international laws and customs."