The US defense department has cited China, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam as among the 19 countries with “excessive maritime claims” that “if left unchallenged … could permanently infringe upon the freedom of the seas enjoyed by all nations.”
The four countries were among the 19 “claimants” named by the US Department of Defense in its Annual Freedom of Navigation Report 2020 for their alleged attempts to restrict unlawfully the rights and freedoms of navigation, overflight and other lawful uses of the sea.
“Unlawful and sweeping maritime claims—or incoherent legal theories of maritime entitlement—that are inconsistent with international law pose a threat to the legal foundation of the rules-based international order. Consequently, the United States is committed to confronting this threat by challenging excessive maritime claims,” the report said.
It listed at least 28 various excessive maritime claims that American forces challenged from Oct. 1, 2019, to Sept. 30, 2020. According to the report, “these claims are made through laws, regulations or other pronouncements that are inconsistent with international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention.”
“If left unchallenged, excessive maritime claims could permanently infringe upon the freedom of the seas enjoyed by all nations,” it added.
China appeared to have the highest number of excessive maritime claims that have multiple operational challenges in the East and South China Seas.
These included straight baseline claims, restrictions on foreign aircraft flying through an Air Defense Identification Zone without the intent to enter national airspace, criminalization of surveying and mapping activities by foreign entities which do not obtain approval from or cooperate with China, and prior permission required for innocent passage of foreign military ships through the territorial sea.
Malaysia was cited in the report for allegedly requiring prior consent for military exercises or maneuvers in the exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.
Taiwan and Vietnam were both called out for apparently requiring prior notification for foreign military or government vessels to enter the territorial sea.
The Philippines was not mentioned in the report.
In July 2016, an international arbitral tribunal upheld the country’s position to invalidate China’s baseless historical claims on most of the South China Sea. But Beijing did not take part in the arbitration and has refused to recognize the ruling.
Citing the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, the US Department of Defense said all nations have the right and freedom to engage in traditional uses of the sea.
“As a nation with both a vast coastline and a significant maritime presence, the United States is committed to preserving this legal balance as an essential part of the stable, rules-based international order,” it added.
While it acknowledged that some countries did not share this commitment, the United States said it would continue to challenge countries that assert limits on maritime rights and freedoms which exceed the authority provided under international law.
“The United States will uphold the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea for the benefit of all nations—and will stand with like-minded partners doing the same,” it stressed.
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