Taiwan hits back at China over Strait waterway

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd and U.S. Coast Guard cutter Munro conduct Taiwan Strait transits on August 27, 2021. [Reuters]

Taiwan has dismissed China’s sovereignty claims over the Taiwan Strait waterway.

While accusing Beijing of distorting international law, Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman, Joanne Ou said by ignoring Taipei's sovereignty claim over the Taiwan Strait and downgrading the strait to its own exclusive economic zone (EEZ), China revealed its ambition to annex Taiwan.

Last week Ou said the only waters over which any country has full sovereignty are its 12-nautical mile territorial waters.

She said Taiwan will continue to work with like-minded countries to jointly uphold rule-based international orders and promote peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

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

Her comments come as a response to her Chinese counterpart, Wang Wenbin, who 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.

Wang denied the US claims that the channel should be treated as international waters and said Beijing has sovereign and administrative rights to the Taiwan Strait.

The move has heighten tension between Taiwan and China even as the US say it will not be stopped by the assertive language from China, whose claims over Taiwan have taken on a new focus after Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

America has backed Taiwan's assertion that the strait separating the island from China is an international waterway, a further rebuff to Beijing's claim to exercise sovereignty over the strategic passage.

Taiwan Strait is the nautical flash point described as an international waterway shared by the mainland and Taiwan.

The Strait has been a frequent source of military tension since the defeated Republic of China government fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war with the communists, who established the People's Republic of China.

According to Bloomberg, American warships transit the Taiwan Strait several times a year while en route between the East and South China Seas, averaging one such trip a month in 2021.

Its data show that the US Navy has conducted at least three transits so far this year.

Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which China has ratified, but the US has not, nations are entitled to territorial waters stretching 12 nautical miles from their coast.

They may also claim an exclusive economic zone stretching another 200 nm. Beyond that, are the high seas.

China is said to be enjoying sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the Taiwan Strait while respecting the legitimate rights of other countries in the relevant maritime areas.