by Namrata Hasija
The South China Sea issue has flared tensions not only between China and the other claimants Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines but also the US, Japan and Australia. However, the international community has ignored Republic of China’s (Taiwan) claims over South China Sea – and this despite the fact that Taiwan controls Taiping Island which is the biggest island in South China Sea before China started building artificial islands in the region.
On July 12, 2016 when an arbitral tribunal in The Hague issued a landmark ruling, overturning many of China’s claims in the South China Sea, it was PRC and ROC which refused to accept the decision. This ruling was the result of a case filed by the Philippines against the People’s Republic of China, in 2013, raising legal objections to Beijing’s claims and behaviour in the disputed area.
Taiwan shares many of its South China Sea claims with the PRC which were initiated by the Chiang Kai-Shek government right after the Second World War and before it shifted to Taiwan. Taiwan, in fact, claims to have historical documents supporting its claims. However, Taiwan’s claims were also challenged in the case Republic of Philippines v/s People’s Republic of China but as it is not part of any UN Convention it was unable to defend its case. It was refused even an observer status in the case. The ruling declared Itu Aba, known as Taiping Island in Taiwan, as a rock and not an island, as it cannot sustain a human community without external aid.
Taiwan held rescue drills in November 2016 after the Tribunal decision to reassert its claim on Taiping Island and surprisingly got no backlash from Mainland China. In a way, China sees ROC protecting its own rights in the region as China sees the ‘1992 consensus’ as the base of their relationship. According to the consensus, both sides agree that there is one China although the definitions are different.
China also demonstrated its right over the area and towards the end of December 2016, a group of Chinese warships, led by the country's sole aircraft carrier, passed south of Taiwan and entered the top half of South China Sea in what China termed ‘a routine exercise’.
It is high time that Taiwan differentiated its position from Beijing’s claim on South China Sea; otherwise Taiwan will be seen as serving China's cause. If China is successful in its plans for South China Sea, it can use it to deploy submarines and navy against Taiwan.
Taiwan has spoken about resource sharing and development in the region same as China, however, China has not defined how that can be done. Taiwan can take the opportunity and define clearly how it can be done.
(Namrata Hasija is Research Associate at South Asia Monitor and President, Taiwan Alumni Association in India. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org)