China’s ambassador to the United Kingdom has attempted to justify Beijing’s aggression in the South China Sea while also bashing U.S. operations there, in an opinion piece published by The Guardian. The piece, however, contained outright distortions of international law that have left experts scratching their heads as to what message the veteran Chinese diplomat was trying to convey.
Liu Xiaoming, who has been Beijing’s ambassador in London for close to a decade, penned an op-ed titled “China will not tolerate US military muscle-flexing off our shores” that was published by the British newspaper The Guardian on June 27.
The op-ed said that Beijing is “firmly committed” to “peaceful development” in the contested South China Sea, despite the fact that China has been widely observed rapidly militarizing and building artificial islands there.
Liu also lashed out at the United States and said that freedom of navigation operations by U.S. Navy warships are nothing but an American attempt at “flexing its own military muscle.” Such operations, Liu claimed, do not meet the requirements of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and are “freedom to run amok.”
“Although naval ships are not subject to UNCLOS provisions of innocent passage, they are required by many countries to obtain prior permission or provide advance notice to enter foreign territorial waters. Such is the provision of China’s Law on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone,” the op-ed said.
John Burgess, professor of maritime law and executive director of the international law program at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, told The Epoch Times that “every aspect of Liu Xiaoming’s statement is incorrect.”
“Warships are in fact subject to the rules of innocent passage, something the United States has never denied or challenged,” said Burgess. “There is nothing in UNCLOS to suggest that warships need permission to enter territorial waters.”
Article 17 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea specifically stated that ships of all States enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea. While Article 19 specifies restrictions on some activities that warships can conduct in the territorial sea, it does not say that any “prior permission” has to be obtained.
“I think the only thing regarding about needing to obtain permission and provide notice [for warships to enter territorial waters] is the official Chinese policy,” Burgess said.
To contest Chinese regime claims that foreign warships need permission to enter its waters, the United States has been actively conducting Freedom of Navigation (FON) operations in the South China Sea. Many of these have involved cruising U.S. navy warships within the 12 nautical miles territorial sea line of Chinese artificial islands and features.
Just recently, U.S. Defense Secretary Mattis has reiterated the U.S. commitment to these operations and said they serve as “a reaffirmation of the rules-based order.”