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Taiwanese fishermen plan to head to Taiping to protect rights

2016/07/16 20:16:38

CNA file photo

Taipei, July 16 (CNA) Taiwanese fishermen are planning to sail to Taiwan-controlled Taiping Island in the South China Sea to protect the country's fishing rights in response to a court ruling that rejected the island's right to an exclusive economic zone.

A day after fishermen from Pingtung County's Donggang Township proposed to set foot on Taiping to assert Taiwan's sovereignty claim to the island and safeguard their fishing rights, the Liuchiu Fishermen's Association expressed support for the move on Saturday.

It also encouraged fishing boats operating near Taiping to join in the campaign to set foot on the island, but it was not clear when the fishermen intend to make the trip.

They may need the help or approval of government authorities to land on Taiping Island because it is a government-controlled area.

The fishermen made the proposal to go to the island out of frustration at the government's response to the ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, describing the reaction as being "too weak."

In a case brought by the Philippines against China, the court ruled on July 12 that none of the Spratly Islands, including Itu Aba (Taiping Island), could be considered "islands" and therefore were not entitled to 200-nautical-mile economic zones under international law.

An island is entitled to a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, compared with only a 12-nautical-mile zone for "rocks."

Taiwan's government, which was not a party to the case, has said it will not accept the ruling and that the ruling is not binding on Taiwan.

The Coast Guard Administration has said that it will step up patrols in the South China Sea to protect its fishermen there.

The fishermen's campaign has received the support of the Minkuotang party (民國黨).

Party Chairwoman Hsu Hsin-ying (徐欣瑩) urged President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) to take concrete action to demonstrate her administration's determination to safeguard the country's sovereignty and said the government should not let Taiwanese fishermen fight alone.

She also suggested that the government send the Navy back to Taiping to protect the country's territory.

Taiping Island has been protected by the Coast Guard since the marines stationed there were ordered to return to Taiwan proper in 1999 under the administration of then President Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) in a gesture of good will to reduce tensions in the region.

Taiwan has long defined the 0.51-square kilometer Taiping, which lies about 1,600 kilometers southwest of Kaohsiung, as an island that can sustain human habitation and economic life.

Taiwan took control of Taiping -- the largest natural feature in the Spratly Islands -- in 1956.

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.

(By Kuo Chih-hsuan, Justin Su and Elaine Hou)