Sun, May 13, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan into South China Sea of trouble

By Lin Cheng-Yi 林正義

During their time in office, both the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) have found themselves at a loss as to what to do about the disputes involving the South China Sea. It will be hard for things in the area to calm down and Taiwan cannot afford to exclude itself from developments in the region. When China and the Philippines clashed over Mischief Reef in 1995, the Police Administration’s Seventh Battalion went on an inspection tour to Taiping Island (太平島), but were forced to turn back to Taiwan.

In 2002, China and ASEAN signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and Taiwan’s approach to this has been inconsistent. China has cut electric cables in the territorial waters of Vietnam and has used force to protect its fishermen around the Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island, 黃岩島) close to the Philippines. Although Taiwan has reiterated its sovereignty and all other maritime rights over certain islands in the South China Sea, the government has hardly taken any effective, concrete action.

Taiwan’s “U-shaped line” in the South China Sea overlaps with China’s “9-dash line,” but Taiwan claims territorial sovereignty over all the islands within this boundary. However, this claim has been questioned by the US and the other countries with territorial stakes to the area. While China was the last country to occupy the Spratly Islands, maritime law-enforcement and naval deployment in recent years there has made countries other than Taiwan feel threatened.

Regarding disputes over territory located nearby Taiwan, the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) faces a hard time in negotiating with Japan over the island chain known as the Diaoyutais (釣魚台) and there is little chance of cooperation with China on that issue as well.

When it comes to the South China Sea dispute, however, there is more room for cooperation with China.

The DPP chose to pursue a strategy of non-cooperation with China in the South China Sea and opposed it and other ASEAN nations occupying islands to which Taiwan claimed sovereignty. The DPP also did not cooperate with ASEAN nations to resist China’s claims.

The Ma government and China share the burden of protecting their claims to sovereignty in the region, but they also need to think about the concerns of the US and ASEAN nations as well.

Taiwan must develop a strategy to deal with the South China Sea issue and this requires readying for war.

Taiwan lacks oil resources and both the DPP and the KMT governments agreed that CPC Corp, Taiwan (CPC) should cooperate with China National Offshore Oil Corp to develop oil and gas ventures in the northern waters of the South China Sea near the Dongsha Islands (東沙群島). The opening of China’s deep-sea drilling platform in the South China Sea offers a new opportunity for CPC to develop cross-strait energy cooperation.

There is no way that cross-strait relations can always be peaceful. In the Dongsha Islands, China is Taiwan’s imaginary enemy while on Taiping Island it is Vietnam which is the adversary. Taiwan has to do what it can to strengthen its ability to defend both Taiping Island and the Dongsha Islands.

We cannot afford to make our coast guards feel that the government is putting them in a dangerous situation. Once Taiwan adopts a professional military system, there will be more conscripts to maintain guard in the disputed Spratly Islands. The best solution is to develop a defense deployment strategy largely based on Taiwan’s national army, with the coast guard operating as backup.

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