China asserts jurisdiction over Taiwan Strait, avoids US ‘international waters’ position

Sailor Xi Chan watches the destroyer USS Barry as it transits the Taiwan Strait on April 23, 2020. (Samuel Hardgrove/US Navy)

China claims exclusive rights over the Taiwan Strait, a spokesperson for the country’s Foreign Ministry said Monday, a statement that could spark a confrontation with US warships that regularly transit the region.

“China has sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the Taiwan Strait. At the same time, it respects the legitimate rights of other countries in the relevant waters,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wenbin Wang said at a press conference on Monday.

For months, China has privately told the US government that it considers the waters separating Taiwan from the mainland to be part of China’s exclusive economic zone, Bloomberg News reported Monday, citing an unnamed source. The United States and other countries view the strait as international waters where its warships are free to pass.

An exclusive economic zone, or EEZ, lies beyond the 12 nautical mile maritime territorial limit of a country and gives that country certain rights, including the right to the natural resources therein, in accordance with the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Referring to the Taiwan Strait as “international waters” is an attempt to manipulate China’s claim to the island of Taiwan, Wang said Monday.

“There is no legal basis for ‘international waters’ in the international law of the sea,” he said. He said Taiwan was an “inalienable part of Chinese territory”.

The United States has sent a Navy warship to the area once a month so far this year.

“US Navy ships have been using the Taiwan Strait to transit between the South China Sea and the East China Sea in accordance with international law for many years,” the Navy spokesman said Tuesday. Lt. Mark Langford, at Stars and Stripes.

By claiming the Taiwan Strait as its own, China could lay the groundwork for denying foreign military vessels access to these waters, according to James Brown, an international affairs expert at Temple University’s Japan Campus.

The United States is not a party to the Law of the Sea Treaty, but generally abides by its provisions, according to the Stockton Center for International Law. The treaty guarantees freedom of navigation through economic exclusion zones, but its exact implications for foreign warships are debated.

“Many Western countries interpret UNCLOS as allowing outside states to conduct military exercises in another country’s EEZ under the principle of ‘freedom of navigation,'” Brown said in an email Monday to Stars. and Stripes. “However, this interpretation is not shared by Beijing. China considers military exercises to be detrimental to national security and should therefore not be allowed in its EEZ.

This position is consistent with Beijing’s use of “lawfare” to promote national interests and resembles China’s position toward the South China Sea, according to Brown.

“Here too, Beijing ignored international law and sought to assert national primacy over international waters,” he said.

In September, China changed its law to require foreign vessels to give advance notice before entering the South China Sea, of which Beijing also claims an exclusive economic zone.

Pentagon spokesman John Supple said at the time that the United States opposed claims by coastal states to “violate the rights of navigation and overflight enjoyed by all nations under international law.” .

The Pentagon has consistently responded to China’s claims of control in the Straits and the South China Sea by saying it will operate where international law permits.

Chinese planes and ships have made “an alarming increase” in dangerous aerial interceptions and clashes at sea, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said at the Shangri-La Dialogue defense summit in Singapore on Saturday.

“We have witnessed a steady increase in provocative and destabilizing military activity near Taiwan,” Austin said.

Thelma J. Longworth