Skip to main content

South China Sea: Shipping

Question for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

UIN 90257, tabled on 15 September 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, what steps he is taking to support freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

Answered on

24 September 2020

In the South China Sea, our commitment is to international law, particularly the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and to freedom of navigation and overflight. We encourage all parties to settle their disputes peacefully through the existing legal mechanisms, particularly UNCLOS.

Given the importance we attach to UNCLOS, on 3 September, I (Minister Adams) set out in full our legal analysis on the South China Sea for the first time. I (Minister Adams) made clear that the group of rights generally considered under "freedom of navigation", including innocent passage and overflight, apply in the South China Sea, regardless of sovereignty claims. On 16 September, we issued a joint Note Verbale with France and Germany to the UN Secretary General in response to assertions in Chinese Notes Verbale that we consider inconsistent with UNCLOS. We underlined the importance of unhampered freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

As part of the UK's consistent presence in the region, five Royal Navy ships have transited the South China Sea since April 2018, most recently HMS Enterprise in early 2020. These deployments serve to reinforce our commitment to regional security and to upholding UNCLOS. Wherever the Royal Navy operates, it does so in full compliance with international laws, norms and rights to freedom of navigation provided for by UNCLOS.