Context:

  • China accused the United States of threatening the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait after a U.S. warship sailed through the sensitive waterway that separates Taiwan from its giant neighbour.
  • The U.S. said that the ship’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.
  • Recently, India protested the U.S. decision to conduct a patrol in the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the western Indian Ocean, rejecting the U.S.’s claim that its domestic maritime law was in violation of international law.

Relevance:

GS-II: International Relations (India’s neighbors, Foreign Policies and interventions affecting India’s policies), GS-I Geography

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)
  2. The Precarious Triangle: China, Taiwan, and United States
  3. Taiwan Strait
  4. China’s Position on Taiwan

Freedom of navigation

  • Freedom of navigation (FON) is a principle of customary international law that ships flying the flag of any sovereign state shall not suffer interference from other states, apart from the exceptions provided for in international law.
  • In the realm of international law, it has been defined as freedom of movement for vessels, freedom to enter ports and to make use of plant and docks, to load and unload goods and to transport goods and passengers. This right is now also codified in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
  • Not all UN member states have ratified the convention, notably, the United States has signed, but not ratified the convention – However, United states enforces the practice.

US and Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS)

  • The US Department of Defense defines FONOPs as “operational challenges against excessive maritime claims” through which “the United States demonstrates its resistance to excessive maritime claims.”
  • The United States has an institutionalized FONOPs program called the Freedom of Navigation Program, which undertakes many FONOPs around the world every year.
  • U.S. armed forces have conducted FONOPs in areas claimed by other countries but considered by the U.S. to be international waters.

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

  • United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is the international agreement defining the rights and responsibilities of nations with respect to their use of the world’s oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources.
  • UNCLOS replaces the older ‘freedom of the seas’ concept, dating from the 17th century: national rights were limited to a specified belt of water extending from a nation’s coastlines according to the ‘cannon shot’ rule.
  • All waters beyond national boundaries were considered international waters: free to all nations, but belonging to none of them.
  • While India ratified UNCLOS in 1995, the U.S. has failed to do it so far.

The Precarious Triangle: China, Taiwan, and United States

  • Taiwan continues to be used as a ploy in the political games between the world’s two superpowers, with both sides turning up the heat in the Taiwan Strait.
  • Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen’s inauguration coincides with U.S. lobbying efforts to help Taiwan secure observer status at the World Health Organization (WHO)’s 73rd World Health Assembly, as well as increased pressure from Beijing to have more say in the self-ruling island’s status
  • Taiwan’s actions of transparency and willingness to help and share information in the advent of the virus stand in stark contrast to claims from Beijing that its model for combating COVID-19 is superior. It remains to be seen if Beijing’s attempts to keep Taiwan out of the international spotlight and recognition will succeed
  • These developments are all the more relevant when viewed against the backdrop of U.S.-China competition plunging into an abyss.

Taiwan Strait

  • The Taiwan Strait is a strait separating the island of Taiwan and continental Asia.
  • The strait is currently part of the South China Sea and connects to the East China Sea to the north.
  • The entire strait is on Asia’s continental shelf and there are many islands in the strait.
  • Historically both the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan espoused a One-China Policy that considered the strait part of the exclusive economic zone of a single “China”.

China’s Position on Taiwan

  • China has also stepped-up warnings on any attempt to include or support Taiwan’s role at the WHA.
  • Chine referred to the “One-China” principle as “a widely accepted universal consensus of the international community including the Indian government.”
  • China asserts that there is only “One China” and that Taiwan is an inalienable part of it.
  • China put forward a formula, known as “one country, two systems”, under which both Beijing and Taipei agree that Taiwan belongs to China, while the two still disagree on which entity is China’s legitimate governing body.
  • China also stated its right to use “non-peaceful means” against Taiwan if it tried to secede from China.

-Source: The Hindu

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