Skip to main content

Spratly Islands: Territorial Waters

Question for Ministry of Defence

UIN 15272, tabled on 6 November 2015

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, whether the Royal Navy plans to adhere to the 12-nautical mile territorial limit proclaimed by China around the Subi and Mischief reefs in the Spratly archipelago; and if he will make a statement.

Answered on

16 November 2015

In accordance with international law as set out in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Royal Navy warships exercise the right of innocent passage whenever transiting in another States' recognised territorial seas. The exercise of the right of innocent passage requires neither prior authorization nor authorization from the coastal State. When operating in the Exclusive Economic Zone of a coastal State, RN warships will exercise full freedom of navigation and overflight whilst respecting any established safety zones, up to 500 meters, around an artificial island, installation or structure.

In the South China Sea the UK has a strong interest in the maintenance of peace and stability, which is underpinned by respect for, and adherence to, international law. The UK strongly supports its right, and that of all States, to exercise freedom of navigation in accordance with UNCLOS. We urge all States to respect these very important rights.