Manila declines Taipei invitation to visit disputed Spratlys island
Taipei, May 13 (CNA) The Philippines has officially declined to an invitation from Taiwan to visit Taiping Island in the disputed South China Sea, Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Friday, while rebutting Manila's argument that Taiping is a rock and not an island.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) extended the invitation in March to the Philippines to send government representatives or lawyers to visit Taiping to see the place for themselves, as questions have been raised recently about whether the 0.51-square-kilometer Taiping, the largest of the Spratly Islands, can be defined as an island under international law.
Ma also invited the five arbitrators from the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, who are dealing with a case brought by the Philippines against China, which has triggered interest in how the land formations in the South China Sea should be defined.
The Philippines sent a formal decline of Taiwan's invitation recently, while the court in the Hague has yet to respond to Taiwan's invitation, the ministry said in a statement.
The Philippines has continued to make statements about Taiping that Taiwan considers to be false, which has undermined peace in the region, the ministry said.
Manila is hoping that the court will rule that many of the formations claimed by Beijing in the South China Sea are reefs or rocks, entitled to no more than 12 nautical miles of territorial waters, rather than islands, which generate 200-nautical-mile economic zones.
Such a ruling would negate many of China's claims to fishing or resource rights in the region.
Taiwan has taken an interest in the case because a lawyer for the Philippines has argued that Taiping is not an island but rather a rock that cannot support human habitation.
As part of Taiwan's efforts to seek international support for its stance that Taiping meets the definition of an island, the country has arranged for international media representatives and experts over the past few months to visit the island to see it for themselves.
Ma also visited Taiping in January. The island lies about 1,600 kilometers southwest of Kaohsiung.
Taiping has its own sources of natural, abundant, potable fresh water, as well as naturally formed and fertile soil, while fruit, vegetables, chickens and goats are raised there, providing ample evidence that it is fit for human habitation and can support an economic life of its own, meeting the definition of an island under international law, according the ministry.
In the Friday statement, the ministry once again extended the invitation to the tribunal panel to visit Taiping so that it does not make a ruling based on only partial information.
"If the arbitration court does not respond to our invitation, it shouldn't make a ruling on the legal status of Taiping," the ministry said.
Should the final ruling undermine Taiwan's sovereignty over the South China Sea and maritime rights in the region, it will not be legally binding for Taiwan, the ministry said. The Republic of China government will not recognize or accept such a ruling, it added.
Taiwan, China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei claim all or part of the islands and reefs in the South China Sea, which is thought to be rich in oil and natural gas reserves.
(By Elaine Hou)ENDITEM/J
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