China has said it is setting set up its own international maritime “judicial centre” to handle territorial disputes.
The top court gave few details in its announcement, but said the centre would help China become a “maritime power”.
Beijing is locked in disputes with its neighbours over claims in the resource-rich South China Sea, with tensions raised in recent months over China’s aggressive land reclamation.
It has also squared off with Japan over the Diaoyu or Senkaku islands.
International maritime disputes are usually brought before the UN’s International Court of Justice, including an arbitration case brought on by the Philippines against China over their competing claims in the South China Sea. Beijing has refused to participate.
The announcement of the new centre came from Chief Justice Zhou Qiang on Sunday during the ongoing annual meeting of China’s parliament.
“(We) must resolutely safeguard China’s national sovereignty, maritime rights and other core interests,” he said, without giving further details on the centre and how it would work.
China already has 10 domestic maritime courts – the most number in the world, according to state broadcaster CRI – which handled about 16,000 cases last year.
Tensions have ratcheted as China continues to build artificial islands, airport runways and facilities on disputed reefs, prompting calls from the US for a halt in such activities.
Opponents have accused Beijing of militarisation but China says such construction is within its rights and the construction is for civilian purposes.