China discreetly launches initiative to combat ‘illegal activities in key areas’ in South China Sea

A recent US report has claimed that China has discreetly initiated a maritime law enforcement initiative with an aim to enhance marine environmental protection and combat “illegal activities in key areas”, including offshore oil exploration as well as shipping and related operations.
“China’s Ministry of Natural Resources, Ministry of Ecology and Environment, Ministry of Transport and China Coast Guard, in a joint statement released on April 1, had announced the commencement of an eight-month-long “Bihai 2020” (or “Blue Sea 2020”) initiative,” US-based Diplomat magazine has said in its report.
According to the joint statement, the Bihai 2020 initiative, which is stipulated to last from April 1 to November 30, focusses on combating illegal activities in eight key areas — marine engineering construction, offshore oil exploration, dumping of marine waste, shipping and related operations, sea sand mining and transportation, marine protected area, land-based pollution and marine ecological environment.
The media reported that the seemingly uninteresting and mundane Bihai 2020 announcement was overshadowed by the rising tensions in the South China Sea in recent months.
On the surface, the initiative appears to be solely aimed at enhancing marine environmental protection. But, as noted in the joint statement, law enforcement activities conducted under the initiative would involve coastal and sea patrols, as well as remote monitoring capabilities.
“This presents a worrying possibility that the initiative could be used by Beijing as yet another justification for the increased presence of Chinese law enforcement vessels in the disputed South China Sea,” the report said.
“South-East Asian countries should place more attention on the Bihai 2020 initiative before it turns into another source of conflict,” the report warned.