The Taiwan Strait is International Waters

January 1, 2020
The U.S. considers the Taiwan Strait to be international waters, not Chinese territory.

The island of Taiwan is located approximately 100 miles off the east coast of China, across a body of water called the Taiwan Strait.* The Taiwan Strait is part of the South China Sea, and China has sometimes claimed the area as its territorial waters.

However, the United States has consistently said that it considers the waterway to be international waters rather than Chinese territory. In May of 2019, U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Nathan J. Christensen commented that “The US Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.” His comment came after two U.S. Navy ships had sailed through the Taiwan Strait.

The United States have sailed vessels through these waters for many years. Other countries – like Australia, Canada, and France – have done the same. However, misleading headlines often reference these types of transits as antagonizing China or as increasing tensions with the PRC, which embraces the PRC view rather than the international view. The truth is that these types of transits are a routine part of FONOPS (Freedom of Navigation Operations) for the U.S. Navy in the Indo-Pacific.

 

* Technically consisting of two straits, which is why the waterway is sometimes referred to as the Taiwan Straits