台湾海峡争端:“国际水域”只是美国为维护其海洋霸权而炮制的一个说法

中国外交部发言人汪文斌在6月13日例行记者会上表示,国际法上根本没有“国际水域”一说,并拒绝将台湾海峡定性为“国际水域”,这引起了美国和台湾当局的关注和抗议。美国国务院坚称台湾海峡为“国际水域”,包括航行与飞越在内的公海航行自由在这一水域受到国际法的保障,台外事部门发言人欧江安亦反对北京的说法,坚定附和美国的主张。

除了外交层面的争端外,还有媒体报道引用汪文斌的发言,将中国的立场描述为对整个台湾海峡的主权主张。使问题更加复杂的是,中国大陆的一些社交媒体账户无知地鼓吹将整个海峡视为内海,这一观点并没有在任何中国官方政策中得到承认。

1982年《联合国海洋法公约》(UNCLOS)被公认为管理所有海洋活动的“海洋宪章”,它是否有关于“国际水域”的规定呢?如果没有,为什么美国不仅在台湾海峡,还在其领海以外的其他海域都坚持使用这个术语?台湾海峡的法律地位又该被如何定义?这些都是需要解决的问题,以便我们充分理解争议各方对海洋法的不同解释和适用。

在《联合国海洋法公约》全文中搜索,你会发现没有关于“国际水域”的法律定义或相关规定,但这个词对于美国海军或海事律师而言却并不陌生。美国海军于1900年首次出版、经多次更新后于2022年3月再版的《美国海上行动法指挥官手册》明确规定:“出于作战目的,国际水域包括不属于任何沿海国家主权管辖范围的所有海洋区域”。

很明显,“国际水域”更是一个军事行动术语而非法律术语。既非法律术语,在《联合国海洋法公约》中没有任何相关规定也就不足为奇了。这一事实亦为汪文斌的发言提供了支持,即“‘国际水域’在国际海洋法中没有法律依据”。这就引出了一个问题,为什么美国要使用这个术语,而不是与《联合国海洋法公约》保持一致?

这并不仅仅因为美国不是《联合国海洋法公约》的缔约国,上述美国海军指挥官手册给出了答案:“领海以外的所有水域都是国际水域,在这些水域中国际社会享有公海航行和飞越自由。国际水域具体包括毗连区、专属经济区和公海”。出于作战目的,美国将毗连区和专属经济区重新划分归类为等同于公海的区域,宣称享有航行和飞越自由而可以不被该区域所要求的法律义务所束缚。更关键的一点是,这些自由在美国看来包括了从正常过航到军事演习的各种活动。

这样一来,美国就可以在沿海国家的毗连区和专属经济区自由开展军事活动而不承担任何法律义务。由此,“国际水域”一词,而这种霸权在很大程度上依赖于其军舰在世界各大洋上的机动性。

另一个谬论是,美国军舰过航台湾海峡是执行航行自由计划行动(FONOPs),以挑战中国在台湾海峡的“过度海洋主张”。美国的航行自由计划始于1979年卡特政府时期,其年度报告可在美国国防部的网站上免费查阅。但梳理一下这些文件,你就会发现找不到任何具体记录可以佐证“中国在台湾海峡有过度海洋主张”。

最后,台湾海峡的法律地位到底是什么?它到底是允许国际航行的海峡还是内海(正如一些社交媒体用户所错误主张的那样)?同样,我们还是要回到《联合国海洋法公约》,它对用于国际航行的海峡的法律制度做了具体规定。

根据《联合国海洋法公约》规定,有两类“用于国际航行的海峡”。第一类是与一个或多个沿海国家的领海完全重叠的海峡,这些海峡受过境通行制度的管辖,霍尔木兹海峡、马六甲海峡、直布罗陀海峡、曼德海峡等都术语这一类。第二类是与沿岸国领海没有完全重叠的海峡,在海峡当中有一条穿越公海或专属经济区的方便国际航行的航道,这些海峡也适用公海航行和飞越自由规定的约束,比如台湾海峡和宫古海峡。

不过,《联合国海洋法公约》也规定,行使这种自由和权利需要遵守相关义务,包括沿海国根据国际法制定的适用的法律和法规。以台湾海峡为例,海峡当中有一条穿越专属经济区的通道,海峡水域被划分为几个区域,包括内水、领海和毗连区。这种情况下,在台湾海峡的领海部分适用无害通过制度,而在专属经济区通道内类比适用公海航行与飞越自由。

这也是为什么汪文斌指出“中国对台湾海峡享有主权、主权权利和管辖权”。他实际上是表示,中国对台湾海峡两侧的中国内水和领海享有主权,对当中的专属经济区部分享有主权权利和管辖权。然而,一些媒体错误地或故意地,把中方的声明报道为中国对整个台湾海峡的主权要求。

作者:田士臣,经士智库总裁兼国际军事行动法研究中心主任,中国论坛特约专家;

Taiwan Strait dispute: ‘international waters’ is merely a US concoction to maintain its maritime hegemony

By reclassifying all waters seaward of territorial seas as international waters, the US can claim all the high seas freedoms while avoiding any of the obligations due to coastal states

In this sense, the term serves as a panacea for Washington, allowing it to maintain the mobility of its warships in the world’s oceans

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin’s assertion that there is no such thing as “international waters” in international law and rejection of the Taiwan Strait as international waters have raised concerns and led to an outcry in both the United States and Taiwan.

The US State Department insists the Taiwan Strait is international waters where high seas freedoms, including of navigation and overflight, are guaranteed under international law. Taiwanese foreign ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou also rejected Beijing’s claim, to stand firmly with the US.

Beyond the official disputes, there are media reports that cite Wang’s statement as describing China’s position as claiming sovereignty over the entire Taiwan Strait. Social media accounts in mainland China also ignorantly advocate treating the entire strait as an internal sea, which is not acknowledged in any official Chinese policy.

The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is considered the “constitution of the oceans” governing all maritime activity. Does it have any regulations on “international waters”?

If not, why does the US persist in using this term, not only with regard to the Taiwan Strait but also in other areas beyond territorial seas? And, what is the legal status of the Taiwan Strait? These are questions that need to be addressed to understand the different interpretations and applications of the law of the sea between the disputing parties.

Search the full text of UNCLOS and you will find no provision for “international waters”. However, this term is not new to the US navy or marine lawyers.

The Commander’s Handbook on the Law of Naval Operations, published by the US Navy, states: “For operational purposes, international waters include all ocean areas not subject to the sovereignty of a coastal state.”

Clearly, “international waters” is an operational, rather than legal, term. Since it is not a legal term, it’s not surprising that there are no provisions for it in UNCLOS.

This supports Wang’s statement that: “There is no legal basis of ‘international waters’ in the international law of the sea.” And it invites the question of why the US started using the term instead of keeping in line with UNCLOS.

It is not simply because the US is not a party to UNCLOS. The answer lies in the same US Navy handbook, which asserts that: “All waters seaward of the territorial sea are international waters in which the high seas freedoms of navigation and overflight are preserved to the international community. International waters include contiguous zones, EEZs [exclusive economic zones] and high seas.”

By reclassifying contiguous zones and EEZs alike as equivalent to the high seas for operational purposes, the US claims freedom of navigation and overflight without being tied down by the obligations demanded.

The key point is that these freedoms, in the eyes of the US, include activities ranging from normal passage to military exercises.

So the US will carry out military activities in the contiguous zones and EEZs of coastal states without paying attention to its obligations. It is in this sense that the term “international waters” serves as a panacea for Washington, allowing it to maintain its maritime hegemony, which relies heavily on the mobility of its warships in the world’s oceans.

Another incorrect view is to regard the US sailing of its warships through the Taiwan Strait as carrying out freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) to challenge “excessive maritime claims” by China.

The US freedom of navigation programme started in 1979 under the Carter administration and its annual reports are freely available on the US defence department’s website. Comb through these and you will find no specific record of challenging excessive Chinese maritime claims in the Taiwan Strait.

Finally, what exactly is the legal status of the Taiwan Strait? Is it a strait used for international navigation or an internal sea (as wrongly advocated by some social media users)? Again, we have to come back to UNCLOS, where the legal regime of straits used for international navigation is specifically regulated.

Accordingly, there are two types of strait used for international navigation between one part of the high seas or an EEZ and another part of the high seas or an EEZ.

The first type are straits that are completely overlapped by the territorial seas of a coastal state or states and which are subject to the legal regime of transit passage. The Strait of Malacca is one example of this.

The second type are straits not completely overlapped by territorial seas, with a route through the high seas or an EEZ suitable for international navigation, and which are subject to high seas freedom of navigation and overflight. The Taiwan Strait and Miyako Strait are two examples.

Still, UNCLOS stipulates that the exercise of such freedom and rights is subject to obligations, including under the applicable laws and regulations of the coastal states. Take the Taiwan Strait, for example. There is an EEZ corridor through it, and the waters are divided into several zones including internal waters, territorial sea and contiguous zones.

The principle of innocent passage applies to the designated territorial sea in the Taiwan Strait, while the high seas freedoms, of navigation and overflight, apply to the EEZ. That is why Wang said that, “China has sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the Taiwan Strait.”

He meant that China has sovereignty over the internal waters and territorial seas in the strait, and sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the EEZ part. However, some media mistakenly or deliberately cited his statement as saying that China claims sovereignty over the entire Taiwan Strait.