Mark Collins – Chinese Navy, US Northern Waters and “Innocent Passage”

The same right, under the UN Law of the Sea Convention (Section 3 here), that the US itself traditionally insists on world-wide–now off Alaska:

Chinese Warships Made ‘Innocent Passage’ Through U.S. Territorial Waters off Alaska

Five Chinese warships crossed into U.S. territorial waters heading south out of the Bering Sea exercising a stipulation in maritime law that allows a warship to cross into another country’s maritime territory legally, U.S. defense officials told USNI News on Thursday.

The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) flotilla made an “innocent passage” passing within 12 nautical miles of the Aleutian Islands that border the southern edge of the Bering Sea, defense officials told USNI News.

“The five PLAN ships transited expeditiously and continuously through the Aleutian Island chain in a manner consistent with international law,” according to a Thursday statement provided to USNI News by U.S. Northern Command.

NORTHCOM did not provide a time when the transit occurred but it is most likely the ships passed through the islands either early Thursday morning or late Wednesday night based on USNI News’ understanding of the current positions of the flotilla — about 300 nautical miles south of the island of Attu on the western edge of the Aleutians.

An innocent passage, without prior notification, is a maritime right laid out as part of the U.N. Law of the Sea Convention.

Under international law a warship can transit through a nation’s territorial waters “so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal state,” according to Article 19 of the UNLOSC

The PLAN group was composed of three surface combatants, an amphibious warship and a fleet oiler and were part of the seven ship group the Chinese sent to drill with the Russians earlier this month off of Russia’s Pacific coast and the Sea of Japan…

Closer to home China jealously guards its own maritime boundaries and has at times required prior notification for ships making innocent passages in its own territorial waters and routinely challenges aircraft and ships in what are universally considered international waters.

U.S. military ships and aircraft routinely conduct freedom of navigation missions in the South China Sea drawing fighter intercepts and verbal rebukes from the PLA [more here on South China Sea].

For its part, the U.S. has not made innocent passage part of its freedom of navigation missions in the South China Sea — a divisive issue between the Pentagon and the Obama administration, according to a late July report in Politico

Related:

Dragon Re-Writing International Law for South China Sea

The Asian Maritime Cockpit, Eagle vs Dragon Section, Pacific Pivot Indeed

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

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