Mon, Jun 08, 2015 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan’s role encouraging peace

By John Lim 林泉忠

China is carrying out large-scale land reclamation in the South China Sea and is suspected of accelerating its construction of military bases in the region. It also released a defense white paper, China’s Military Strategy (中國的軍事戰略), late last month, which states that China is readying itself for a new era of “maritime military struggle.”

The US could no longer contain itself and finally sent warships and planes to conduct surveillance in a high-profile intervention in the South China Sea dispute.

Meanwhile, Japan, which recently renewed the Guidelines for Defense Cooperation under the US-Japan Security Treaty with the US, has made active deployments in an attempt secure a share in the waters.

The world’s three largest economies all have their own reasons for switching their focus to the area and a competition unprecedented in the 70 years since the end of World War II is quickly taking shape in the region.

The situation in the South China Sea is increasingly complex. Taiwan has had troops stationed on Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island, 太平島), the largest of the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島), since the end of World War II. On May 26, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) proposed the South China Sea peace initiative, which he had been working on for quite some time, so as to solidify Taiwan’s role as the “critical weakness” (關鍵弱勢) in the competition between the three powers in the area.

Disputes in the South China Sea have been going on for a long time, although the situation was calm prior to the 1970s.

In 1935, the Republic of China (ROC) government published its Map of South China Sea Islands (中國南海各島嶼圖) to assert its claim to the four island groups in the region: the Pratas Islands (Dongsha Islands, 東沙群島), the Spratly Islands, the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) and Macclesfield Bank (Zhongsha Islands, 中沙群島). After the war against Japan ended, the ROC recovered all the islands in the region previously occupied by Japan.

After the civil war between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and Chinese Communist Party broke out in China, the ROC continued operating, and the Ministry of the Interior published the influential Location Map of the South China Sea Islands (南海諸島位置圖) in 1947, featuring the “U-shaped line” — also known as the “11-dash line” — that is so hotly debated today.

After the KMT relocated to Taiwan in 1949, the CCP modified it to a “nine-dash line.” Based on this, Chinese textbooks list the James Shoal (Zengmu Shoal, 曾母暗沙) as the southernmost territory of China.

After the withdrawal from the Chinese mainland, then-president Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) was forced to give up Xisha’s Woody Island (Yongxing Island, 永興島), which was closer to China’s Hainan Province. However, although Taiwan was under tremendous pressure to be “liberated” by China, Taipei has insisted on maintaining troops on the Dongsha Islands as well as on the distant Taiping Island in the Nansha Islands to this day.

As a result, Beijing has tacitly acknowledged Taipei’s long-term effective jurisdiction over certain islands in the South China Sea, a favorable result for Taiwan. Although Chiang had a strong interest in safeguarding the islands after losing China in 1949, he was incapable of putting troops on the other major islands in the region.

After Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh died in 1969, tensions between the Chinese and Vietnamese communists deepened.

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