OPINION / COLUMNISTS
China stresses legal status of Taiwan Straits to deter US provocation
Published: Jun 14, 2022 07:29 PM
Two Su-35 fighter jets and an H-6K bomber fly in formation on May 11, 2018. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) air force conducted patrol training over China's island of Taiwan.(Photo: Xinhua)

Two Su-35 fighter jets and an H-6K bomber fly in formation on May 11, 2018. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) air force conducted patrol training over China's island of Taiwan.(Photo: Xinhua)

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbing said Monday that according to UNCLOS and Chinese laws, the waters of the Taiwan Straits, extending from both shores toward the middle of the Straits, are divided into several zones including internal waters, territorial sea, a contiguous zone and the Exclusive Economic Zone. China has sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the Taiwan Straits. At the same time, it respects the lawful rights of other countries in relevant waters. This is an important reiteration of China on the legal status of the Taiwan Straits.

There have been many reports recently by US and Western media hyping claims that China denies the Taiwan Straits are international waters, citing words from US officials who have complained that China has repeatedly emphasized this point to them recently. They accused China of attempting to unilaterally change the status quo of the Taiwan Straits. Wang's remarks are obviously a clear response to those voices.  

As we all know, the Taiwan Straits are about 220 nautical miles at its widest point and approximately 70 nautical miles at its narrowest, but the exclusive economic zone can extend 200 nautical miles from the coastline. So in any case, the Taiwan Straits are not so-called international waters, not to mention that there is no such concept as "international waters" in UNCLOS. "International waters" is only an informal term, which usually refers to the high seas outside the exclusive economic zones without any national ownership or jurisdiction. 

The exclusive economic zone can be passed through by ships and aircraft, including warships and military planes, of other countries, in innocent passage. Since it's innocent passage, the warships and aircraft cannot threaten the country that has jurisdiction over the waters. This is the most basic premise. 

The reason why China is emphasizing the legal status of the Taiwan Straits and has clearly denied it's so-called international waters is because the US warships and military aircraft conducted provocative activities there too many times which have seriously violated China's sovereign rights. According to statistics, since the beginning of 2019 to February this year, US warships passed through the Taiwan Straits 38 times. All these transits are blatant declarations of support for the Taiwan authorities and muscle-flexing against the mainland. They have absolutely constituted infringements against China's sovereign rights.

In the past, the US warships rarely transited through the Taiwan Straits, and they were basically silent when passing through. Now, US warships sail through the Taiwan Straits with a high profile and high frequency, regarding it as an important way of interfering in cross-Straits affairs. It is the US that has first made provocations of changing the "status quo" of the situation in the Taiwan Straits, and it is inevitable for China to make a strong response.

In recent years, when US warships passed through the Taiwan Straits, the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) sent warships and aircraft to monitor them. As China has openly denied the fallacy that the Taiwan Straits are "international waters," it is entirely possible for the PLA to take more determined actions against the US warships and aircraft's harmful moves in the Taiwan Straits. I believe this will become a trend.

"The United States will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, and that includes transiting through the Taiwan Strait," a Pentagon spokesman said. 

The two sides' attitude are obviously at odds. Therefore, it can be expected that the Taiwan Straits may become more tense in the future. But due to the growing strength of the PLA and our strengthening preparations for the military struggle in the Taiwan Straits, I believe that the US military will not dare to escalate provocation against China in the region. They will maintain caution so as to not trigger a crisis.

I would like to remind all parties that the Taiwan Straits are on the doorstep of the Chinese mainland. The US cannot match China's ability to mobilize military forces in this region, as well as China's will to fight. It would be a wise choice for the US military not to clash with the PLA here.

Some analysts in Taiwan believe that the Chinese mainland's statement is a legal preparation for the final military solution to the Taiwan question. They may as well think that way, because the two sides of the Taiwan Straits will eventually be unified.

The author is a commentator with the Global Times. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn