South-East Asia's leading diplomat is joining those worried China is dangerously raising tensions over the disputed South China Sea.
ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan says Beijing's plan to possibly board and search foreign ships is alarming.
“Certainly it has raised a lot of concern and anxiety and I think it is creating a bit of a general sense that the situation is becoming more tense.''
Surin has been urging all parties to agree to a code of conduct for an area considered by many to be a potential military flashpoint.
“We have to be extremely careful, not to let the issue be the cause of so much concern, so much worries, so much anxiety. I know that all parties are trying to work out some measure that would reduce a chance of misunderstanding, a chance of miscalculation. But I think a lot of people are concerned.''
Chinese state media reported Thursday that starting January 1 police from the southern island province of Hainan will be authorized to “land on, check, seize, and expel foreign ships” that enter the area illegally.
The official China Daily said “illegal” activities include entering the province's waters without permission and “engaging in publicity that endangers China's national security.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei initially defended Beijing's right to implement the new regulations. But on Friday he put the focus on cooperation.
“We uphold resolving the dispute with neighboring countries via friendly consultations and negotiations. All countries have freedom of navigation in the south china sea in accordance with international law. China attaches great importance to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. At present there are no problems in this regard.''
In July, the Chinese military angered its neighbors by setting up a garrison in Hainan's newly established Sansha City, in an effort to enforce its claims in the region.
Many of China's rival claimants, which include the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan, are concerned about what they see as Beijing's increasing assertiveness in defending its claims in the energy-rich South China Sea.