by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) March 13, 2016
China will establish an international maritime judicial centre, a report from the country's top court said Sunday, as it seeks to shore up territorial claims to the South and East China Sea at the centre of a growing regional dispute.
The decision comes as an international tribunal prepares to decide a case related to the country's claims in the South China Sea, where it has built a series of artificial islands capable of hosting military facilities.
Beijing has refused to participate in the arbitration brought by the Philippines in hopes of settling competing territorial claims in the region, where China has made sweeping assertions of sovereignty.
The new maritime judicial centre will help China "implement its strategy of becoming a powerful maritime country", Zhou Qiang, head of the Supreme People's Court, said in a report to the annual session of the Communist-controlled National People's Congress (NPC) legislature.
The centre, Zhou said, will "resolutely defend" China's "national sovereignty, maritime rights and interests, and other core interests".
The country already has a system of maritime courts, which have adjudicated more than 225,000 cases since 1984, the Supreme Court's spokesperson said last year.
Zhou's comments provided no details about how the new centre would differ from the existing institutions.
China has long-standing disputes over maritime territory in the East and South China Sea, where it has aggressively pursued its claims through an increasingly muscular military posture.
In recent years, the waters of the South China Sea have become the stage for a tussle for dominance between Beijing and Washington, the world's two largest economic and military powers.
China has never clearly defined its claims to the strategic region through which about a third of all the world's traded oil passes.
The Philippines and several other littoral states have competing claims in the region, as does Taiwan.
Manilla's decision to take its dispute with China to an international tribunal based in the Hague has infuriated Beijing, which insists the matter is outside the court's remit.
A ruling on the matter is expected before May.
China's criminal conviction near 100 percent in 2015
A total of 1,039 accused were "declared innocent" by Chinese courts in 2015, Zhou Qiang, head of the Supreme People's Court, said in a report to the annual session of the Communist-controlled National People's Congress (NPC) legislature.
In contrast 1.232 million were found guilty, a conviction rate of 99.92 percent.
The corresponding figures for 2014 were 778 acquittals and 1.184 million convictions, according to Zhou's report last year.
The use of force to extract confessions remains widespread in China and rights groups say suspects often do not have an effective defence in criminal trials, leading to regular miscarriages of justice.
Courts are politically controlled, with activists who come to trial virtually certain to be found guilty.
Public anger has mounted over miscarriages of justice, and in recent years courts have reversed death sentences in a handful of cases marred.
In February alone, five men were acquited of murder charges for which they had been wrongly jailed more than two decades earlier.
Chinese courts "corrected" 1,357 verdicts in 2015, the report said, but only explained the outcome of three cases.
The country should "learn a serious lesson" from the cases, Zhou said in the report, and "improve the mechanisms which can effectively prevent and correct false and wrong cases in a timely manner".
The Communist Party has pledged to ensure the "rule of law with Chinese characteristics" and said it will lessen the influence of local officials over courts.
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