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US: China can’t require reporting for South China Sea passage

Pia Lee-Brago - The Philippine Star
US: China canât require reporting for South China Sea passage
The official said the South China Sea is a maritime superhighway and coast guard-to-coast guard cooperation is critical in the region for building good maritime governance.
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — China’s new action requiring ships to report innocent passage in the South China Sea “seems to run directly counter to international agreements” and could trigger “potential conflicts,” according to United States Coast Guard Vice Admiral Michael McAllister.

The official said the South China Sea is a maritime superhighway and coast guard-to-coast guard cooperation is critical in the region for building good maritime governance.

McAllister noted an increased interest in partnering with the US Coast Guard on maritime safety and security capacity development.

“I would offer the new reporting requirements for ships on innocent passage to the South China Sea, certainly based on the reporting, seems to run directly counter to international agreements and norms,” McAllister told journalists during the Asia-Pacific Media Hub virtual forum on Friday.

“If our reading is correct, these are very concerning, and that’s because they begin to build foundations for instability and potential conflicts if those are enforced,” he added.

The US, he said, is in the region to support key partners that are growing increasingly concerned over China’s aggressive and coercive actions, and US partners’ concerns with their lack of capability or capacity to adequately respond to those actions.

“We do cooperate with China on areas of mutual interest between the US and China; not a whole lot of cooperative activity in the South China Sea,” McAllister said.

Regardless of identity of the South China Sea claimant, the United States Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) said in February that the US challenged unlawful restrictions imposed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam requiring either permission or advance notification before a foreign military vessel, including the US, engages in “innocent passage.”

“This freedom of navigation operation upheld the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging unlawful restrictions on innocent passage imposed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan,” the USINDOPACOM said.

China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines each claim sovereignty over some or all of the Spratly Islands.

But China, Vietnam and Taiwan, according to USINDOPACOM, require either permission or advance notification before a foreign military vessel engages in “innocent passage” through the territorial sea.

Under international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention, the ships of all states –including their warships – enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea.

“The unilateral imposition of any authorization or advance-notification requirement for innocent passage is not permitted by international law,” USINDOPACOM said.

“By engaging in innocent passage without giving prior notification to or asking permission from any of the claimants, the United States challenged these unlawful restrictions imposed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam. The United States demonstrated that innocent passage may not be subject to such restrictions,” it added.

Unlawful and sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea pose a serious threat to freedom of the sea, including freedoms of navigation and overflight, free trade and unimpeded commerce, and freedom of economic opportunity for South China Sea littoral nations.

The international law of the sea as reflected in the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention provides for certain rights and freedoms and other lawful uses of the sea to all nations.

The international community, it said, has an enduring role in preserving the freedom of the seas, which is critical to global security, stability and prosperity.

SOUTH CHINA SEA
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