‘Absurd’: Taipei rejects Beijing’s sovereign claims over Taiwan Strait

·5-min read

Taiwan has firmly rejected Beijing’s claims that it has sovereign rights over the Taiwan Strait, saying it stands by US freedom of navigation activities in international waters.

It also stressed it was fully briefed by Washington on talks in Luxembourg on Monday between US national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Chinese Communist Party Politburo member Yang Jiechi – the third in as many months.

In Taipei on Tuesday, Taiwanese foreign ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou said it was absurd for Beijing to claim that the waterway separating the two sides of the Taiwan Strait was not international waters but the exclusive economic zone of the Chinese mainland.

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“The Taiwan Strait is an international waterway, which is outside of our territorial waters, and is fit for the principle of freedom of navigation in the open sea,” Ou said, adding the island respected any movements of foreign vessels in the Taiwan Strait that abided by international law, including innocent passage.

“We perfectly understand and support the freedom of navigation missions by the United States that help promote peace and stability in the region.”

Ou’s comments came a day after the mainland’s foreign ministry said Beijing had sovereign and administrative rights to the Taiwan Strait, denying US claims that the channel consisted of international waters.

In Beijing on Monday, ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the Taiwan Strait 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.

“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 their manipulation of the Taiwan issue and threaten China’s sovereignty and security.”

China, US defence chiefs square off on Taiwan in first face-to-face talks

Wang was responding to reports that Chinese military officials had repeatedly told their US counterparts the Taiwan Strait – which is 220 nautical miles at its widest part – is not within international waters, but within the exclusive economic zone of the mainland.

Ou said the mainland side had deliberately distorted the rules of international law and turned the strait into its exclusive economic zone.

“The ambition of the Chinese side to swallow up Taiwan is evident, and for this we cannot accept and must condemn it,” Ou noted, adding the mainland’s claims could in no way reduce tensions in the region.

She said Taiwan would continue to work closely with like-minded countries to safeguard international order, and promote peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.

Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Kuomintang, also said it could not accept the mainland’s assertions, saying freedom of navigation in the Taiwan Strait must be upheld as long as it did not violate Taiwan’s rights and was in line with international rules.

It said claims like this would only stoke regional tensions and could in no way help promote cross-strait peace and stability.

China, US defence chiefs square off on Taiwan in first face-to-face talks

Beijing has accused Washington – which is not a signatory to UNCLOS – of stoking tensions in the Taiwan Strait by regularly sending its warships and warplanes through the area under the pretext of freedom of navigation and innocent passage of international waters.

Beijing’s recent assertions that the strait is not within international waters have raised concern in the US and in Taiwan that Beijing might take further steps to confront US and other foreign naval vessels that enter and transit the waters.

The US presence in the strait is seen as a show of support for Taiwan, which Beijing sees as part of its territory.

On Monday, Yang blamed the US for frictions in China-US relations, saying “China will not tolerate intervention of its internal affairs by other countries and any actions that sabotage national unification of China are bound to fail”.

“The Taiwan problem is within the political foundation of the China-US relations. There will be an overturning effect if not handled properly,” he said, warning that this risk would increase if the US continued its approach of “using Taiwan to contain China” and Taiwan’s adoption of “relying on the US for independence”.

According to a US senior official, Sullivan told Yang during the meeting that the US position boiled down to “ensuring peace and stability across the strait” and “ensuring that there are no unilateral changes to the status quo”.

In Taipei, Ou said the US had informed Taiwan about the Sullivan-Yang meeting before it took place. The US briefed the island on the discussions but she could not give details.

Pentagon spokesman Martin Meiners told Bloomberg on Monday that the US “will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, and that includes transiting through the Taiwan Strait”.

Lin Ying-yu, a researcher from the Association of Strategic Foresight, a Taipei-based think tank, said the assertions were meant to tell Washington that Beijing was unhappy with the US activities in the waterway.

“With the Communist Party’s national congress set to be held in the second half of this year, a message like this is necessary not only to affirm China’s territorial stand, but also to provide a common nationalistic outlet for people to shift their attention from the social and economic woes brought by the Covid-19 pandemic in the past two years,” he said.

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