US vows to challenge ‘excessive maritime claims’ of countries restricting navigation in int'l waters

Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 18 2021 03:04 PM

US vows to challenge ‘excessive maritime claims’ of countries restricting navigation in int'l waters 1
An aerial shot of Chinese-claimed reef Subi reef, from a Philippine airforce plane, as Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana along with some journalists visit the Philippine-claimed Thitu island just opposite Subi reef in the Spratlys on April 21, 2017. Ted Aljibe, AFP/File

MANILA - The United States will continue challenging “excessive maritime claims” of countries that unlawfully restrict freedom of navigation and overflight and other lawful uses of the sea, its defense department has said. 

In its Annual Freedom of Navigation Report to the US Congress for the year 2020, the US Department of Defense (DOD) said it already challenged the maritime claims of 19 claimants worldwide from Oct. 1, 2019 through Sept. 30, 2020.

The agency said that excessive maritime claims, if left unchallenged, “could permanently infringe upon the freedom of the seas enjoyed by all nations.” 

“As long as some countries continue to assert limits on maritime rights and freedoms that exceed the coastal State authority reflected under international law, the United States will continue to challenge such unlawful claims,” the report released last week read. 

“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 added. 

The United States in December last year has reiterated its support for South China Sea claimants to develop oil and gas resources in their respective exclusive economic zones. 

It has also been vocal in asserting freedom of navigation in international waters, particularly the disputed area claimed in near entirety by its rival China, because it is a critical waterway for global trade. 

 FREEDOM OF NAVIGATION 

The defense department has carried out operational challenges also known as freedom of navigation (FON) assertions and FON operations.

These operations, the report said, were aimed to “reinforce international law in an even-handed, principled manner without provoking armed conflict.”

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“FONOPs challenge a wide variety of excessive maritime claims made by allies, partners, and competitors. FONOPs are not focused on any particular claimant, and they are not executed in response to current events,” it pointed out. 

The US is inviting other nations “to conduct their own freedom of navigation operations and to publicly—and peacefully—contest excessive maritime claims.”

China, meanwhile, was among the countries whose claims were challenged by the United States. 

The report cited multiple operational challenges to the following “excessive maritime claim” by China:

  •  Straight baseline claims in the South China Sea
  •  Restrictions in East China Sea on foreign aircraft flying through an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) 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 the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in South and East China Sea
  •  Jurisdiction over all surveying and mapping activities “in the territorial air, land, and waters, as well as other sea areas under PRC jurisdiction,” without distinction between marine scientific research and military surveys in South and East China Sea
  •  Security jurisdiction over the contiguous zone in South and East China Sea
  • Prior permission required for innocent passage of foreign military ships through the territorial sea in the South China Sea
  • Territorial sea and airspace around features not so entitled in South China Sea 

In 2016, the Philippines won a case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which invalidated China’s claim to sovereignty over most of the South China Sea. 

Beijing’s claims in the resource-rich waters overlap with those of several neighbors, including Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia. 

In September last year, Britain, France and Germany, all Nato members, issued a joint statement to the United Nations in favor of the 2016 international tribunal ruling against most of Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea. 

The countries said Beijing’s claims to “historic rights” in the waters do not comply with international law.

- With a report from South China Morning Post