Earlier this week China announced a “no sail zone” in a 39,000 square mile (an area roughly larger than the state of Maine) stretch of international waters in the South China Sea near the Hainan Island.
In doing so, China has violated the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention, the US Naval Institute Reports.
“States such as China may declare a naval exercise zone, and issue a Notice to Airmen and a Notice to Mariners to alert other ships and aircraft of the heightened hazards and recommending — but not requiring — that foreign ships and aircraft steer clear,” Naval War College professor and maritime law expert James Kraska told the institute.
The Chinese Maritime Safety Administration announced the “no sail zone” due to military drills from July 5-11, which conspicuously end the day before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague makes their ruling on a territorial dispute over the Scarborough Shoal between China and the Philippines.
China is expected to lose their claims to the island chain, but they have made clear they don’t intend to respect the ruling.
However China’s unilateral move to create a “no sail zone” is nothing new, and the US most likely won’t respect it.
“The timing is clearly sensitive, but the exercises and the declaration of a large no-go zone aren’t novel,” Greg Poling, the head of Center for Strategic and International Studies Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative told USNI News.
In the past, “the PLA has held similar exercises in the same general area of the South China Sea and declared a similarly large section off limits,” said Poling.
When asked if the US would respect China’s demand, a spokesman for the Pentagon indicated they would make no special allowances, and would simply “abide by established international standards.”
US officials also told the Naval Institute that most likely, if the “no sail zone” were challenged, it would be by a member of the USS Ronald Reagan’s carrier strike group, as they’re currently in the region.
During maritime military drills in international waters, it’s standard issue a warning to other sailors, but to prohibit entry into international waters is a completely different matter.
The Navy Times reported that on Wednesday the US Navy had “seven ships in the region including Reagan, two cruisers and four destroyers,” and that some of those destroyers had “quietly stalked” China’s militarised claims, sailing as little as 14 miles off the coast.
“Patrols by US Navy destroyers… are part of our regular and routine presence throughout the western Pacific. U.S. Navy forces have flown, sailed and operated in this region for decades and will continue to do so,” Lt. Clint Ramsden told the Navy Times..
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