The US said it will continue conducting military operations in the Taiwan Strait after China asserted that the waterway is not international waters.
The US frequently sends warships into the Taiwan Strait, and the US military presents the passages as “routine transits” through “international waters in accordance with international law.”
Responding to a question about media reports that said Chinese military officials have expressed to their US counterparts that the Taiwan Strait is not international waters, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin cited the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).”
The US is not a party to UNCLOS, although it has used the framework to reject most of Beijing’s claims to the South China Sea.
The Taiwan Strait is 70 nautical miles at its narrowest, and 220 nautical miles at its widest. Under UNCLOS, a country is entitled to territorial waters that extend 12 nautical miles off its coast. A state is also entitled to the resources of the waters 200 nautical miles off its coast, known as an exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Anyone is allowed to transit the EEZ under UNCLOS, but the state who has rights to it is able to safeguard its sovereign right to the resources.
Since China claims Taiwan, Wenbin said Beijing has sovereignty over the zones extending from both shores to the middle of the Strait. “China has sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction over the Taiwan Strait. At the same time, it respects the lawful rights of other countries in relevant waters,” he said.
Wenbin said that there is no such thing as “international waters” as UNCLOS defines the area beyond the EEZ as the high seas. “It is a false claim when certain countries call the Taiwan Strait ‘international waters’ in order to find a pretext for manipulating issues related to Taiwan and threatening China’s sovereignty and security. China is firmly against this,” he said.
In a statement to Newsweek on Wednesday, a US official rejected Wenbin’s assertions. “The Taiwan Strait is an international waterway, meaning that the Taiwan Strait is an area where high seas freedoms, including freedom of navigation and overflight, are guaranteed under international law,” the official said.
“The United States will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, and that includes transiting through the Taiwan Strait,” the official added.