The United States, China, and Freedom of Navigation in the South China Sea
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China recently acknowledged that it too conducts surveillance and marine data collection in the EEZ of foreign states, including the United States.24 On June 1, 2013, at the maritime security session of the Shangri- La Dialogue, high-ranking Chinese military officials confirmed that China has sent its ships into the United States' EEZ.25 U.S. Admiral Samuel Locklear, Commander of U.S. Forces in the Pacific, confirmed that China's Navy has "started 'reciprocating' the US Navy's practice of sending ships and aircraft into the 200-nautical mile zone off China's coast."26 This activity is ironic because China continues to intercept foreign military and fishing vessels, the United States included,27 and attempts to force them to leave.28 In March 2009, for example, a China Maritime Surveillance patrol vessel intercepted the USNS Impeccable, a U.S. Navy vessel,29 while it was conducting a military survey in China's EEZ.30 The Impeccable was radioed by the Chinese patrol vessel and told that it shouldn't be operating "without the permission of the Chinese government."31
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Comments made during and shortly after the UNCLOS negotiations shed light on how participants intended the Convention to be interpreted. Ambassador Tommy T.B. Koh from Singapore, the President of UNCLOS III,32 recognized that the text of UNCLOS did not explicitly provide clarity on permissible military conduct in the EEZ, but he noted "it was the general understanding that the text we negotiated and agreed upon would permit such activities to be conducted."33 Furthermore, Ambassador Koh has spoken about certain coastal states trying to apply territorial sea sovereignty rights in the EEZ, which he noted "is not consistent with the intention of those of us who negotiated this text, and is not consistent with the correct interpretation of this part [Part V] of the Convention."34 The United States further points out that of the few statements made by China at the time of ratifying UNCLOS, only one related to military activities.35 The statement related only to activities in the territorial sea, saying nothing about China's objections to military activities in a coastal State's EEZ.