Taiwan rejects China's claims of sovereignty over Taiwan Strait

06/14/2022 01:18 PM
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The Ministry of Foreign Affairs. CNA file photo
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs. CNA file photo

Taipei, June 14 (CNA) Taiwan's government on Tuesday described China's sovereignty claim over the Taiwan Strait as a "false claim" and said the only waters over which any country has full sovereignty are its 12-nautical mile territorial waters.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) spokeswoman Joanne Ou (歐江安) reiterated the government's stance that the Taiwan Strait consists of international waters, except for areas that can be defined as territorial waters.

"Our government has always respected any activities conducted by foreign vessels in the Taiwan Strait that are allowed by international law," she said, including passages made by United States vessels.

"We understand and support the freedom of navigation operations conducted by the U.S. as these operations promote peace and stability in the region," she said.

Ou accused Beijing of "distorting international law" in ignoring Taipei's sovereignty claim over the Taiwan Strait, and said that by downgrading the strait to its own exclusive economic zone (EEZ), China "revealed its ambition to annex Taiwan."

Taiwan will continue to work with likeminded countries to jointly uphold rule-based international orders and promote peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region, she added.

Ou was responding to comments by her Chinese counterpart, Wang Wenbin (汪文斌), who said Monday that Beijing has sovereign and administrative rights to the Taiwan Strait and denied U.S. claims that the channel should be treated as international waters.

Wang claimed that the waterway fell within China's territorial waters and exclusive economic zone as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and domestic law.

"China enjoys sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the Taiwan Strait, while respecting the legitimate rights of other countries in the relevant maritime areas," Wang said in Beijing.

"There is no such thing as 'international waters' in UNCLOS. By claiming that the Taiwan Strait is international waters, some countries intend to create an excuse for its manipulation of the Taiwan issue and threaten China's sovereignty and security."

According to UNCLOS, countries can claim an area 12 nautical miles (22 kilometers) from the coast as their territorial seas, where they have full sovereignty.

They can also claim waters up to 200 nautical miles from the coast as an EEZ, where they have a sovereign right to the water column and sea floor as well as resources, but other countries still have the right to sail through or fly over the waters.

Most of the Taiwan Strait is less than 200 nautical miles wide, resulting in overlapping EEZ claims in the waterway by Taiwan and China.

Though UNCLOS does not define "international waters," it does define "High seas" as referring to waters that are beyond the territorial sea or to areas outside EEZs that do not belong to any state's jurisdiction.

Wang made his comments in response to reports that Chinese military officials have repeatedly told their U.S. counterparts the Taiwan Strait is not international waters.

Asked to comment on Wang's remarks, U.S-based China affairs analyst Ian Easton told CNA that Chinese government and military are "increasing their long-term campaign of coercion against Taiwan, and they plan to be even more provocative in the future."

"In my view, it is time for the U.S. to step up and do more to support regional security. A U.S. Navy ship visit to Taiwan, public visits from a high-level American officials, and bilateral US-Taiwan defense drills are all long overdue," he wrote in an email to CNA.

(By Joseph Yeh and Chiang Ching-yeh)

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