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Tsai gives pep talk aboard frigate headed to South China Sea

2016/07/13 12:35:23

Taipei, July 13 (CNA) President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) vowed on Wednesday to protect Taiwan's interests in the South China Sea a day after an international tribunal delivered a ruling seen as having an adverse impact on Taiwan's claims in the region.

"Just yesterday, new changes took place in the South China Sea, and now is the time for us to demonstrate our resolve to safeguard the country's interests," Tsai said aboard the Di Hua frigate (迪化艦) at Zuoying naval base in Kaohsiung before it set off on a routine patrol mission in waters near the Spratly Islands.

Tsai was referring to the ruling handed down by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on a case brought by the Philippines against China that focused in part on whether islands claimed by China were entitled to 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zones.

The court ruled that none of the land formations in the Spratly Islands, including Taiwan-controlled Taiping Island (Itu Aba), were islands under international law and were therefore not entitled to exclusive economic zones.

Tsai was intent on rallying the troops following the verdict, which the Presidential Office said would not be accepted by the Republic of China (Taiwan) and was not legally binding on the government.

"Today, the Di Hua frigate is set to set off to conduct patrols in the South China Sea," the president said of the mission, which began a day ahead of schedule. "The mission carries special significance as new changes just occurred yesterday in the South China Sea."

Tsai criticizing the ruling, particularly its interpretation of Taiping Island, saying it "has seriously jeopardized our country's sovereignty over islands in the South China Sea and their surrounding waters," she said.

"This ship represents the ROC and the uniform that you are wearing represents the responsibility that you assumed from the people. This patrol mission (will) demonstrate our determination to protect our country's interests."

The president reiterated Taiwan's position that South China Sea disputes should be resolved peacefully through multilateral negotiations and said Taiwan was willing to pursue stability in the region through dialogue based on equality.

She also urged the ship's crew to help rebuild the military's reputation after a series of recent incidents that hurt its image, including the firing of a live missile by mistake into the Taiwan Strait.

"Now, a greater mission has fallen on your shoulders and everyone of you must show the result of your regular training and fully carry out the mission in the South China Sea to safeguard the country's interests," she said.

Six countries -- Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam -- fully or partially claim the islands in the South China Sea and their surrounding waters that are strategically critical lanes for ships and planes that navigate in the region.

The court's ruling dealt a major blow to China's claims, saying there was no legal basis for China to claim "historic rights" to resources within South China Sea waters falling within China's "nine-dash line."

(By H.H. Liu and Flor Wang)