China is once again flexing its muscles globally and staring down the United States as well. Military officials in the communist nation have declared to their U.S. counterparts that the Taiwan Strait is included in its maritime exclusive economic zone. In the past, it has been seen as an open international waterway. China has now demanded that the United States stay out of these waters.
Military officials from China have now repeatedly informed America that it is wrong in their understanding of the international maritime law that governs the waterway dividing Taiwan from the mainland of China. This is according to a source familiar with the situation who spoke with Bloomberg News agency this weekend.
Communication on this matter has come to the United States on numerous occasions and through several different levels of authority.
This is not a new position for China to take, they have held the view that the Taiwan Strait is part of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) for quite some time. But the United States has also long considered the waterway open to international traffic and they have had their U.S. Navy sail Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) through the waterway.
China has protested these actions by the United States in the past, but this issue wasn’t a common discussion point in the communications between China and America, according to the source speaking with Bloomberg.
These new declarations by China regarding their EEZ probably mean that the nation is ready to take further steps to gain control over the waterway.
According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), it states that an EEZ gives a sovereign state the “exclusive” rights to the “economic exploitation and exploration of the zone.”
But it also states that other nations are still allowed to have “navigation and overflight and of the laying of submarine cables and pipelines, and other internationally lawful uses of the sea.”
So according to the UNCLOS rules, an EEZ does not prohibit military vessels and aircraft from having passage on a given waterway. And the rules also state that an EEZ extends no more than 200 nautical miles (about 230 standard miles) from a state’s sea baseline.
China Claims Taiwan Waterway
Taiwan is approximately 100 miles from the closest shoreline of mainland China.
The Low Institute based in Australia found in February of 2021 that China has wrongly claimed that its EEZ gives them the right to regulate military activity in the waterways because EEZs are not intended to serve as a security zone.
China is not alone in believing its claim, other nations like Argentina, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, the Maldives, Oman, and Vietnam all have the same mindset as China. This is despite what has been revealed about UNCLOS rules.
The U.S. Navy FONOPs through the Taiwan Strait is seen by China as support for Taiwan’s independence.
Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe spoke at the Shangri-La Dialogue international security summit in Singapore last week. He told those gathered at the summit, with a focus on U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, that China will not hesitate from fighting a war if Taiwan attempts to become independent from mainland China.
Austin responded, “We see growing coercion from Beijing. We’ve witnessed a steady increase in provocative and destabilizing military activity near Taiwan. And that includes [Chinese People’s Liberation Army] aircraft flying near Taiwan in record numbers in recent months—and nearly on a daily basis.”
He also noted that America remains focused on keeping peace and stability in the region and the Taiwan Strait. And he said that China’s move is threatening to undermine the stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific.
It remains to be seen who will win in this global game of chicken.