Taiwan Must Tread Carefully on South China Sea Ruling
Following the arbitration award earlier this month in Philippines v. China, much of the media attention has focused on Beijing’s defiant reaction to the verdict. Less scrutiny has been paid to the response from Taiwan, even though Taiwan’s claims in the region are, at least on paper, almost identical.In its decision, the tribunal set up in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea struck down the legitimacy of China’s assertion to the large area of the South China Sea encircled by Beijing’s so-called nine-dashed line. It also found that none of the features in the Spratly Islands, located just west of the Philippines, are islands capable of generating extended maritime zones.
The dashed line appears on both Chinese and Taiwanese maps. Taiwan also claims the four groups of features in the South China Sea, as well as “their surrounding waters in accordance with international law.” In addition, Taiwan has been in control of the largest natural feature in the Spratlys, Itu Aba, since it first stationed personnel there in 1956.
Unlike China, Taiwan has, since around 2014, taken steps to clarify that it is only claiming maritime zones from land features in accordance with the convention. It has refrained from mention of the dashed line in official statements.
In 2015, Taiwan further made clear that it claims that Itu Aba is an island that can sustain human habitation or economic life on its own, and therefore entitled to a 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The day after the tribunal issued its decision, Taiwan sought to make a display of its “resolve in defending the national interest,” to use Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s words. It sent a warship to the area to patrol the region. A week later a group of lawmakers visited Itu Aba.
Such actions will only heighten already fraught tensions. But it doesn’t put Taiwan on the wrong side of the law. The tribunal didn’t rule on sovereignty over Itu Aba or any other feature in the South China Sea. And all user states, including their warships, enjoy innocent passage in a feature’s territorial sea. Read more…
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