US Calls Taiwan Strait 'International Waterway' as China Warns Against 'False Claim' About Area
While the US has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, Washington continues to channel weapons and other support to Taipei in an informal manner. China, which views the island as its province, has repeatedly condemned US support for Taiwan, slamming it as a violation of the communiques underpinning the Washington-Taipei diplomatic relationship.
Washington has supported Taipei's assertion that the Taiwan Strait, which separates the island from China, is an international waterway.
In an interview with Reuters on Tuesday, US State Department spokesman Ned Price argued that "the Taiwan Strait is an international waterway, meaning that the Taiwan Strait is an area where high seas freedoms, including freedom of navigation and overflight, are guaranteed under international law."
He added that the world has "an abiding interest in peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, and we [the US] consider this central to the security and prosperity of the broader Indo-Pacific region".
Price reiterated Washington's concerns over Beijing's "aggressive rhetoric and coercive activity regarding Taiwan", pledging that the US "would continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, and that includes transiting through the Taiwan Strait".
The remarks came in response to the Chinese Foreign Ministry arguing on Monday that it has sovereign and administrative rights to the Taiwan Strait, and rejecting US claims that the area is international waters.
Spokesman Wang Wenbin insisted that 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 underscored.
He asserted that "there is no such thing as 'international waters' in UNCLOS" and that it is " a false claim when certain countries call the Taiwan Strait 'international waters'" and "intend to create an excuse for its manipulation of the Taiwan issue and threaten China's sovereignty and security".
Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou called Beijing's position a "fallacy", arguing, "the Taiwan Strait is international waters, and the waters outside our territorial waters are subject to the freedom of the high seas principle of international law".
She was echoed by the island's Premier Su Tseng-chang who asserted that the Taiwan Strait was by "no means China's inland sea".
"China's ambition to swallow up Taiwan has never stopped or been concealed; the Taiwan Strait is a maritime area for free international navigation," Su told reporters.
Ma Xiaoguang, spokesperson for China's Taiwan Affairs Office, in turn, argued that the government in Taipei was "cooperating with external forces to hype up the issue".
According to Ma, this "harms the interests of compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Strait and betrays the interests of the Chinese nation - it is despicable".
The comments followed the Chinese Defence Ministry late last week announcing that Beijing is prepared to take resolute action if Taiwan declares independence.
"If anyone dares to split Taiwan from China, the Chinese army will definitely not hesitate to start a war, no matter the cost," the ministry's spokesperson Wu Qian pointed out.
The Beijing-Taipei tensions escalated after the Chinese military sent almost 40 fighter jets into Taiwan's air defence identification zone for two days in a row in October 2021. The flights were preceded by US and EU delegations visiting the island and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen admitting during an interview with CNN that US troops were deployed on Taiwanese territory for training purposes.
The Wall Street Journal earlier reported that US Marines and special operations forces had been secretly training Taiwan's soldiers "for more than a year".
The tensions have been exacerbated by the US repeatedly sending warships to the Taiwan Strait, with Beijing dubbing such missions provocations and slamming Washington as "the destroyer of peace and stability" in the Taiwan Strait and "a security risk creator in the region".
Although the US does not enjoy formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, Washington maintains a representative office in Taipei, remaining the island's biggest supplier of military hardware. During his recent visit to Japan, President Joe Biden said that the US was ready to support the island militarily if China invaded it. The White House quickly scrambled to clarify that the POTUS meant supplying weapons and military equipment to the island.
Officially known as the Republic of China (ROC), Taiwan severed all ties with mainland China in 1949, following the Chinese Civil War, in which Mao Zedong's communist forces of the People's Republic of China (PRC) defeated the Kuomintang nationalists and forced them to flee to the island.
With both the ROC and the PRC claiming the country's territory, the UN recognised the PRC as the one and only legal China in 1971.
Beijing considers the island an integral part of the PRC, sticking to a policy of peaceful reunification under a "One China - Two Systems" model.
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