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Taiwan seeking to protect rights ahead of South China Sea ruling

2016/07/10 21:42:58

Taiping Island. (CNA file photo)

Taipei, July 10 (CNA) Taiwan has taken a series of actions to safeguard its rights ahead of a July 12 ruling by an international tribunal on a dispute between the Philippines and China over territorial issues in the South China Sea.

The Republic of China (Taiwan) government has been calling for the claimants in the disputed area to resolve their disputes through multi-lateral negotiations under international law, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said in her May 20 inauguration speech that the countries that claim jurisdiction in the East China Sea and South China Sea should set aside their disputes and work on joint development of the region,.

Taiwan's stance on the issue was developed by Tsai's predecessor, former President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), in his South China Sea Peace Initiative in May 2015.

In January 2013, the Philippines brought a case against China over their territorial disputes in the South China Sea to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, one of the channels listed in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to settle related disputes.

The legal battle was the result of China forcibly taking control of the Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines in 2012 over fishing disputes.

Taiwan and China both claim most of the South China Sea territories, which are thought to be rich in oil and natural gas reserves, while the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei each assert sovereignty over different parts of the area.

These countries each control different islands and reefs in the South China Sea and have asserted the right to an exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles around each island, under the terms of the UNCLOS.

In its bid to obtain a ruling that would invalidate China's claim of sovereignty based on a so-called historical nine-dash line, the Philippines in 2015 argued that the islands controlled by China were actually just rocks that could not sustain human habitation.

Beijing, therefore, was not entitled to an exclusive economic zone, but rather just to 12 nautical miles of territorial waters, the Philippines said.

In its argument against China, the Philippines also included Taiwan-controlled Taiping Island, the largest naturally formed island in the Spratly group in the South China Sea.

China, meanwhile, has adopted a stance of non-acceptance and non-participation in the case on the grounds that the tribunal has no power to rule on sovereignty issues, and has been insisting that such disputes should be resolved by negotiations between the related parties.

The tribunal, however, has determined that it has jurisdiction to rule on the Philippines' claims against China regarding exclusive economic zones surrounding reefs close to the Philippines and unlawful actions that interfere with the Philippines fishing rights.

In order to assert its stance on the South China Sea issue, Taiwan has organized trips for the international media and experts on international law to visit Taiping Island to see for themselves that it is an island, not just a rock.

In March, the Chinese (Taiwan) Society of International Law also submitted an amicus curiae, which is a legal brief used by groups that are not parties in a case, to rebut the Philippines' argument regarding Taiping Island.

In the brief, the society said Taiping Island has a natural supply of fresh water and is covered by original and natural vegetation. Citing the opinions of scientists and international law experts, the brief said Taiping is an island, as defined in the UNCLOS.

Under the UNCLOS, the tribunal's ruling will be final, since the parties have not reached an agreement on an appellate procedure.

On July 7, Defense Minister Feng Shih-kuan (馮世寬) said in the Legislature that Taiwan's military is prepared for a possible escalation of tensions in the region following the tribunal's ruling on June 12.

China, meanwhile, has been staging a military drill in waters around Hainan Island and the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, from July 5-11, during which time vessels from other countries are not allowed in the area.

(By Tai Ya-chen and Kay Liu)
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