China and Taiwan at odds over US military presence in Taiwan Strait
China and Taiwan find themselves in a new clash over interpretations of international law, the reading of which is likely to impact how everyone views the US military’s presence in the Taiwan Strait.
Beijing claims Taiwan as one of its provinces, while Taipei claims the island is already a de facto nation.
Another layer of the differences between the straits emerged over the weekend after a Bloomberg report said China was privately challenging the legal status of the waters in meetings with the United States, in a bid to stop the now routine transits of American warships.
These otherwise closed objections were all but confirmed by Beijing on Monday, when Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin declared “China’s sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the Taiwan Strait”.
Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a state is granted a “sovereign right” over resources located within an exclusive economic zone that extends 200 nautical miles beyond its territorial sea. A state’s “sovereignty”, however, ends after 12 nautical miles of its territorial sea, while the surface waters of the EEZ are considered international waters, more formally called “high seas”.
China’s interpretation, which Wang said was based on both UNCLOS and unspecified Chinese laws, runs counter to the idea that the Taiwan Strait is part of the high seas.
“It is a false assertion when some countries refer to the Taiwan Strait as ‘international waters’ in order to find a pretext to manipulate Taiwan-related issues and threaten China’s sovereignty and security. China opposes this. firmly,” he said.
Transportation through the Taiwan Strait is important for China and Taiwan; the waters are also a vital shipping line for trade and energy imports to South Korea and Japan.
China’s challenge is directly aimed at the United States and its allies, which have sailed military vessels through the Taiwan Strait under the UNCLOS principle of freedom of the seas, and regularly reminds Beijing of their interest in preventing a conflict across the strait.
The United States does not take an official position on sovereignty over Taiwan, but insists that political disputes between Beijing and Taipei must be resolved through peaceful means. The Taiwanese government, while not sharing Washington’s view on sovereignty over the island, is said to be willing to keep its strongest international support close to its shores.
Joanne Ou, spokeswoman for Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry, told reporters that beyond the island’s territorial waters, Taipei considers the Taiwan Strait to be the high seas and therefore subject to the principle of the free seas. China’s assertion of jurisdiction over the Taiwan Strait was a distortion of international law and a “mistake”, it said on Tuesday.
Taiwan respects all legal movements of foreign vessels through the Taiwan Strait, “including innocent passage”, Ou said. “We understand and support U.S. freedom of navigation operations and their benefits in promoting regional peace and stability.”
US officials did not release details of relevant discussions with their Chinese counterparts, but say the US military will continue to operate where international law permits. Earlier this year, the State Department released a forensic argument against Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea in a study titled Limits in the Seas No. 150.
Although Washington has yet to formally respond to China’s latest lawfare attempt, recent press releases contain possible clues to the dispute.
After transiting the Taiwan Strait last month by the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Royal Portthe U.S. 7th Fleet based in Japan said: “The vessel transited through a corridor in the strait which lies beyond the territorial sea of any coastal state.”
It’s unclear when Chinese authorities began raising the status of the Taiwan Strait, but the new condemnation of the US Navy appeared to make its first appearance in February. He is waiting to see if Beijing intends to implement its latest maritime vision more vigorously.