For some reason, some ASEAN states question if Taiwan is a legitimate South China Sea participant to the regional dialogue process. Taiwan possesses and controls Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island, 太平島), the largest of the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島). Moreover, during 2006 and 2007, the Democratic Progressive Party government took several measures, including the extension of Taiping Island’s airport runway, to strengthen its garrison and bolster its claim of sovereignty.
Can Taiwan play a more active role in the South China Sea and participate more effectively in the regional dialogue process? In The South China Sea Dispute: Taiwan’s Response and Challenge it Faces, Song Yann-huei (宋燕輝) of Academia Sinica attributed the nation’s problems in the South China Sea to the Ma government’s adherence to the “one China” principle and making almost identical absurd territorial claims as China has done.
For Taiwan to be a serious player and participate meaningfully in the regional dialogue, it must redefine its identity and its national interests in the South China Sea and toward ASEAN.
Taiwan should not allow China to pre-empt its participation in East and Southeast Asia issues. The two are separate international actors and their national interests are not identical. Taiwan’s territorial claim in the South China Sea should be based on facts and international law, and not on history alone. As a member of the community of democracies, Taiwan should work with other democratic nations to achieve a peaceful solution to the disputes in the East and South China seas.
Parris Chang is a professor emeritus of political science at Penn State University and chief executive of the Taiwan Institute for Political, Economic and Strategic Studies.