Taiwan’s Claims Lost In South China Sea Dispute – OpEd

By Namrata Hasija*

The South China Sea issue has flared tensions not only between China and the other claimants Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines but also the US, Japan and Australia. However, the international community has ignored Republic of China’s (Taiwan) claims over South China Sea – and this despite the fact that Taiwan controls Taiping Island which is the biggest island in South China Sea before China started building artificial islands in the region.

On July 12, 2016 when an arbitral tribunal in The Hague issued a landmark ruling, overturning many of China’s claims in the South China Sea, it was PRC and ROC which refused to accept the decision. This ruling was the result of a case filed by the Philippines against the People’s Republic of China, in 2013, raising legal objections to Beijing’s claims and behaviour in the disputed area.

Taiwan shares many of its South China Sea claims with the PRC which were initiated by the Chiang Kai-Shek government right after the Second World War and before it shifted to Taiwan. Taiwan, in fact, claims to have historical documents supporting its claims. However, Taiwan’s claims were also challenged in the case Republic of Philippines v/s People’s Republic of China but as it is not part of any UN Convention it was unable to defend its case. It was refused even an observer status in the case. The ruling declared Itu Aba, known as Taiping Island in Taiwan, as a rock and not an island, as it cannot sustain a human community without external aid.

Taiwan held rescue drills in November 2016 after the Tribunal decision to reassert its claim on Taiping Island and surprisingly got no backlash from Mainland China. In a way, China sees ROC protecting its own rights in the region as China sees the ‘1992 consensus’ as the base of their relationship. According to the consensus, both sides agree that there is one China although the definitions are different.

China also demonstrated its right over the area and towards the end of December 2016, a group of Chinese warships, led by the country’s sole aircraft carrier, passed south of Taiwan and entered the top half of South China Sea in what China termed ‘a routine exercise’.

It is high time that Taiwan differentiated its position from Beijing’s claim on South China Sea; otherwise Taiwan will be seen as serving China’s cause. If China is successful in its plans for South China Sea, it can use it to deploy submarines and navy against Taiwan.

Taiwan has spoken about resource sharing and development in the region same as China, however, China has not defined how that can be done. Taiwan can take the opportunity and define clearly how it can be done.

*Namrata Hasija is Research Associate at South Asia Monitor and President, Taiwan Alumni Association in India. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent to [email protected]

South Asia Monitor

South Asia Monitor

South Asia Monitor is an independent web journal and online resource dealing with strategic, political, security, cultural and economic issues about, pertaining to and of consequence to South Asia and the whole Indo-Pacific region. Developed for South Asia watchers across the globe or those looking for in-depth knowledge, reliable resource and documentation on this region, the site features exclusive commentaries, insightful analyses, interviews and reviews contributed by strategic experts, diplomats, journalists, analysts, researchers and students from not only this region but all over the world. It also aggregates news and views content related to the region.

2 thoughts on “Taiwan’s Claims Lost In South China Sea Dispute – OpEd

  • February 19, 2017 at 3:20 am
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    As a Province of the Republic of China, Taiwan had no claim on Pratas Reef, the Paracels and the Spratleys until the first Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Government under Chen Shui-bian beginning with the 2000 election year. Up to that time, these islands, claimed by the Republic of China were administered by the shadow Guangdong Provincial Government which re-established itself on Taiwan in 1949. ROC claims and Guangdong Provincial administration were inherited from the fallen Manchu regime in 1912. China’s claims to these islands are very old. When the Communists came to power, they set up a rival Guangdong Provincial administration which then included Hainan. When Hainan split away from Guangdong Province in 1984-88, Hainan Province inherited administrative responsibility for the south sea islands. I cannot remember which year, but the ROC began downplaying the shadow provincial government concept and, later, moved to change the administration of all south sea islands from Guangdong Administration to Taiwan provincial administration. Clearly, this was so Taiwan would have a claim to those islands should Taiwan ever become an independent state which is a goal of the DPP not shared by the Kuomintang Nationalist Party.

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  • February 22, 2017 at 2:35 pm
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    “Taiwan held rescue drills in November 2016 after the Tribunal decision to reassert its claim on Taiping Island and surprisingly got no backlash from Mainland China.”

    If you’ve followed the issue previously, this is very much NOT surprising. China seldom, if ever, objects to Taiwanese claims in the South China Sea, particularly Taiping Island and the naval station there–as such, this is entirely consistent behavior from Beijing. It also represents a point of contention between Taiwan and its Southeast Asian neighbors, with whom it otherwise shares several interests: in particular the Philippines and its neighbors want the Taiwanese presence gone and for the Spratleys and other features to go up for negotiation along with other island chains (though any such act would be political suicide for both a Kuomintang and a DPP government in power in Taiwan), and naturally do not want a Taiwanese naval or coast guard installation there. Taiwan very naturally wants to preserve one of its few overseas installations that it has poured considerable time and resources into, especially given the obvious reality that abiding by the Philippines’ (and the United States’) request to remove the installation has yet to come with any sort of promise to help Taiwan offset the inevitable weakening to its naval strength, precarious as it is, or the loss of the weather monitoring/search and rescue capabilities of the location.

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