China's top justice official said on Sunday that the country will establish an "international maritime judicial center" to back its increasingly controversial territorial assertions.
In his remarks at the annual meeting of China's parliament, Chief Justice Zhou Qiang did not specify the details of this legal program, but stressed the need to "resolutely safeguard China's national sovereignty, maritime rights and other core interests."
"[We] must improve the work of maritime courts and build an international maritime judicial center," he concluded, according to Reuters.
The announcement is likely to aggravate existing regional geopolitical tensions surrounding China's military activities in the South China Sea. Several of the country's smaller neighbors — namely Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan — have condemned what they see as Beijing's increasingly aggressive muscle-flexing in the region, saying China's widening territorial claims encroach upon their own.
Zhou's announcement comes after China's refusal to answer a recent case lodged by the Philippines in an international court in the Hague concerning territorial disputes with China.