In Beijing, the Chinese government has moved to calm regional tensions by clarifying a series of controversial rules that had stoked fears over possible clashes in the South China Sea. The rules had been announced without detail by the government of the southern island province of Hainan at the end of November. Some analysts took them to mean that from January 1, Chinese police would have the right to board and seize foreign vessels anywhere in the South China Sea. But China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman says enforcement would be limited to 12 nautical miles off Hainan's coast. 

Hua also repeated her government's stance that negotiation is the best way of resolving territorial disputes between China and its neighbors.

The South China Sea is rich in fish and oil and gas resources and straddles some of the world's most important shipping lanes. China's moves to enforce its claim to nearly the entire body of water have recently brought about confrontations with Vietnam and the Philippines, which also lay claim to islands in the sea.

In China's government structure, Hainan has jurisdiction over the South China Sea and some analysts say it acted on its own initiative in drawing up its new rules. The province is just one of many state actors pushing ahead with China's claims over South China Sea. Other actor include the coastguard and even state energy companies. The Foreign Ministry, which is much less powerful in China than in other countries, doesn't have the authority to co-ordinate them.

Last week China allocated funds for building infrastructure on the Paracel islands. Last July, Beijing also it established its administrative capital for the South China Sea, Sansha, and a military garrison there. And two days later it announced it is deploying a new class of patrol vessel; the first to be equipped with a helicopter pad.

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