Context:

China’s Defence Ministry protested the passage of a U.S. Navy warship and Coast Guard cutter through the waters between China and Taiwan, a self-governing island claimed by China.

In a move that could have ramifications for the free passage of both military and commercial vessels in the South China Sea, Chinese authorities said that they will require a range of vessels “to report their information” when passing through what China sees as its “territorial waters”, starting from September 1, 2021.

Relevance:

GS-II: International Relations (India’s Neighbours, Foreign Policies affecting India’s Interests), Prelims

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About China’s order on foreign vessels to report in ‘territorial waters’
  2. Significance of South China Sea as a Geopolitical Water Body
  3. The Precarious Triangle: China, Taiwan, and United States
  4. Freedom of Navigation 
  5. US and Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS)
  6. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

About China’s order on foreign vessels to report in ‘territorial waters’

  • Chinese authorities said that they will require a range of vessels “to report their information” when passing through what China sees as its “territorial waters.
  • While it remains unclear how, whether, and where China plans to enforce this new regulation, China sees these regulations as a sign of stepped-up efforts to safeguard China’s national security at sea.
  • Maritime Safety Administration of China “has the power to dispel or reject a vessel’s entry to Chinese waters if the vessel is found to pose threat to China’s national security.”

Nine-Dash Line Claim

  • China claims under a so-called “nine dash line” on its maps most of the South China Sea’s waters, which are disputed by several other countries, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia. Indian officials say Beijing has generally only sought to enforce its claims in response to the passage of foreign military vessels not in the entire sea but in the territorial waters around the islands, reefs and other features, some artificially constructed, that China claims.
  • The “nine dash line” is deemed by most countries as being inconsistent with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which only gives states the right to establish a territorial sea up to 12 nautical miles. The requirements of the latest notice will also be seen as being inconsistent with UNCLOS, which states that ships of all countries “enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea”.

Significance of South China Sea as a Geopolitical Water Body

  • The South China Sea (SCS) is the connecting link between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. (Strait of Malacca)
  • The South China Sea is a busy international waterway, one of the main arteries of global trade worth more than $5 trillion and is growing year on year. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) one-third of the global shipping passes through it.
  • Over 55% of India’s trade pass through its waters and the Malacca Straits, according to estimates by India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). 
  • South China Sea has one-third of the entire world’s marine biodiversity and has significant fisheries as a huge contributor to food security in the region.
  • Oil and gas reserves beneath the South China Sea are also believed to exist
  • It is a rich source of hydrocarbons and natural resources.
  • It contains numerous shoals, reefs, atolls and islands. The Paracel Islands, the Spratly Islands and the Scarborough Shoal are the most important.

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”.

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.

-Source: The Hindu

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