Claims about Manila wrong
The Taipei Times’ recent article on territorial disputes with the Philippines had several issues (“Manila’s illegal maritime hostility,” June 11, page 8).
First, the claim that “the Philippines has extended its territorial waters beyond 200 nautical miles [370km] and labeled these waters the internal waters of the Philippines” is grossly inaccurate.
The truth is that Manila has only included waters within 200 nautical miles of its islands as part of its “exclusive economic zone” and it has excluded waters which are closer to Taiwan than to the Philippines. Meanwhile, Taiwan has not extended the Philippines the same courtesy and, according to this newspaper at least, claims waters between 12 and 24 nautical miles from the Philippines as part of its “exclusive zone,” (“Taipei, Manila might hold fisheries talks next week,” June 3, page 4).
It is common sense: If the coast of the Philippines is less than 200 nautical miles from the coast of Taiwan, then the coast of Taiwan is less than 200 nautical miles away from the coast of the Philippines and yet we do not see Philippine fishing boats or coast guard ships off the coast of Taiwan; if we did, then I would expect Taiwanese to be angry with the Philippines for fishing in Taiwan’s waters.
It was also claimed that “none of these measures conform with international law.”
The truth is that Taiwan and the Philippines have both signed the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and Article 56 (a) states that “[in the exclusive economic zone] the coastal state has sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living.”
Furthermore, Article 15 states: “Where the coasts of two states are opposite or adjacent to each other, neither of the two states is entitled, failing agreement between them to the contrary, to extend its territorial sea beyond the median line every point of which is equidistant from the nearest points on the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial seas of each of the two states is measured.”
The article also claimed that the US “has expressed its opposition through diplomatic channels.”
However, in reality, the White House, on Sept. 2, 1999, issued a communique stating that: “Under international law, a nation can claim a territorial sea up to 12 nautical miles from its coast, and a contiguous zone extending an additional 12 miles. Within the contiguous zone, a nation can act to prevent violations of its environmental, customs, fiscal or immigration laws, or to apprehend vessels suspected of violating them.”
Indeed, Article 33 of the UNCLOS states that: “The contiguous zone may not extend beyond 24 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured.”
This is relevant as an increasing number of incidents involving Taiwanese fishing boats have occurred in waters less than 24 nautical miles from the Philippines, in stark contrast to the claim that “Taiwanese fishing boats [have] no choice but to avoid these waters.”
I imagine ordinary people in the Philippines must be frightened by the idea that Taiwanese coast guard ships are accompanying Taiwan fishing boats in the waters off their coast. I cannot imagine any other country ordering their coast guard ships to operate off the coast of another country, let alone the other country being willing to put up with this behavior.
However, I can imagine how the international community would react if Taiwan were to carry out the threat of “dispatch[ing] several warships to carry out small-scale, concentrated ... missions” in the area in question and I think the government of Taiwan would be well advised to consider the international reaction to such a move.
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