Disputes over territory and resources in the South China Sea are becoming more heated. The Philippines, Vietnam, China and other countries around the body of water have on many occasions used military maneuvers, fishery conservation, surveys, prospecting for resources and other activities to stake their respective claims to sovereignty and maritime rights associated with islands and shoals in the Spratly Islands (南沙) and other island chains. They have also submitted their sovereignty claims to UN agencies specializing in the fields of maritime law and sea-related issues.
For a while these countries stuck to an unspoken agreement to set aside sovereignty issues in favor of joint development of resources. Now, however, that consensus has broken down and tensions have arisen that will be hard to dispel in the short term. Given the reality that power speaks loudest, Taiwan can only take part by employing soft power and forming alliances. Working out the best ways to do this will take a lot of wisdom and clever strategic thinking.
There have been many maritime disputes in recent years; the situation in the South China Sea is the tip of the iceberg. A renewed scramble for power over the oceans has been heralded by a range of disputes over maritime territory. In addition to the South China Sea, other examples include the East China Sea, the Arctic Ocean, the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), the Kuril Islands, the Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo or Takeshima) and the Okinotori reefs. The underlying reason for these disputes is that resources on land are getting scarcer and the world’s seas and oceans — which cover 71 percent of the Earth’s surface — contain rich and varied resources that will be of great value to whomsoever exploits them, and so they are becoming a new focus for global competition.
In view of this trend, countries that border the sea keep coming up with new strategies to expand their development and control over it. The UK views the development of marine sciences as a revolution in this new century, but it is not alone. The EU as a whole intends to become more competitive and take a leading position in international maritime affairs. The US and Japan see maritime affairs as an important part of their national development strategies and they aim to get ahead in the new round of international competition over the seas and oceans. All these are indications of a new worldwide trend for countries and alliances to claim marine resources.
Taiwan occupies a pivotal position in the Asia-Pacific region and has plentiful marine resources, so it clearly enjoys a natural advantage with regard to developing marine industries. Notably, the sea offers a wealth of renewable energy potential. This renewable energy is a key requirement for Taiwan’s development, given that we depend on imports for more than 90 percent of our energy consumption.
Unfortunately, Taiwan’s governments have always paid more attention to the land than to the sea. Consequently, while conventional fisheries have advanced to some extent, Taiwan’s development of non-biological marine resources is still in its infancy. For example, Taiwan’s wind-power generation capacity in 2008 was just 19.459 megawatts. The total output of Taiwan’s marine economy is NT$573.2 billion (US$19.36 billion), which is only about 5 percent of GDP — much lower than the US’ 50 percent, Japan’s 14 percent and China’s 10 percent.