Issue 01 2015

Military Exercises in the Exclusive Economic Zones: The Chinese Perspective


Over the past several decades, multilateral discussions concerning the law of the sea have resulted in a growing recognition of the importance of maritime resources and space by many of the world’s nations. The 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is a comprehensive treaty that went into effect on 16 November 1994 in order to create a legal regime governing the peaceful use of the oceans and its resources. The UNCLOS provides guidance on various maritime matters, ranging from pollution to environmental protection, from resources rights to military activities. The Convention also created Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ). Such zones extend two hundred nautical miles from the shores of coastal states. In particular, the EEZ regime developed new principles relating both to the rights and the responsibilities of coastal and maritime states within their sphere of influence, including how to conduct military exercises. Whereas in the West, states are mostly agreed on the fact that navigation and military exercises should be based on the concept of ‘navigational freedom’, within non-Western contexts (i.e. East Asia), a widely shared opinion is that foreign battleships engaging in military operations in a country’s EEZ are considered to be harmful to the country’s national security and such activities should therefore be prohibited. Within such a framework, this article intends to investigate the Chinese perspective with regards to military activities in the EEZ. In doing so, it is argued that despite acknowledging the need of both coastal and maritime states to extend surveillance and control beyond their territorial seas, misunderstandings regarding military activities in foreign EEZs are bound to increase if both parties do not simultaneously take both views into account.

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