China continued to react critically to the Trump administration’s emerging position on the South China Sea. Responding to a joint statement by President Trump and Prime Minister Abe that confirmed American support for Japanese administration of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said that “Diaoyu [Island] and its affiliated islands are China’s inherent territory. . . We are firmly against Japan’s attempt to try to gain the US support for its illegal territorial claims in the name of the so-called mutual defense treaty.” This exchange echoed a similar statement from last week.
Later, responding to reports that the U.S. Navy may carry out more frequent freedom of navigation patrols in the South China Sea, Geng urged the United States “to refrain from challenging China’s sovereignty and security and to respect regional countries’ efforts to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea.” He also attributed increased regional stability to hard work between China and her neighbors.
Matching rhetoric with policy, China’s state media announced Beijing will be revising its 1984 Maritime Traffic Law. The proposed revisions would allow Chinese officials to bar foreign ships deemed to threaten “traffic safety and order” from transiting portions of its territorial sea. Additionally, the revisions would require foreign submersibles to alert Chinese authorities and travel on the surface when they enter the territorial sea. These provisions are reminiscent an episode last December, when Chinese officials seized – and later returned—a submersible U.S. drone operating in the South China Sea. The United States, at the time, characterized that seizure as “unlawful.”