Top United States Navy officer in Pacific region, US Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Scott Swift told an audience at the Royal Australian Navy Seapower Conference in Sydney, Australia that freedom of navigation and overflight is the golden rule of a rules-based system codified in United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). He added that freedom of navigation and overflight, and UNCLOS applies to all types of vessels and aircraft, military and civilian from all nations.
“It cannot be parsed, minced, or revised by any one nation’s domestic laws. It cannot be halted by coercion or encroachment. It endures regardless of competing maritime claims, no matter how longstanding or disputed, regardless of their being conceived by nature, or manufactured by man,” Admiral Swift added.
Without specifically mentioning a nation, Swift said “it’s my sense that some nations view freedom of the seas as up for grabs, as something that can be taken down and redefined by domestic law or by reinterpreting international law.”
He added that “some nations in this region continue to impose superfluous warnings and restrictions on freedom of the seas in their exclusive economic zones and claim territorial water rights that are inconsistent with UNCLOS.”
Admiral Swift warned “if even one of these restrictions were successful, it would be a major blow to the international rules-based system with ramifications well beyond the maritime domain.”