Fri, May 23, 2014 - Page 3 News List

Taiwan influence weak: analysts

CHINA-US DILEMMA:The negative view many have of Chinese moves in the South China Sea has Taipei hesitant about cross-strait dealings, a researcher said

By Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  Staff reporter

Coast guard officers stand on duty on Itu Aba (Taiping Island) on Sept. 18, 2011. Since 2000, Itu Aba, which is located in the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands) chain, has been protected by the Coast Guard Administration’s Spratly Islands Command Center.

Photo: CNA

Taiwan is torn between allying with the US, which backs ASEAN countries, and banding with China in the territorial disputes in the South China Sea, a situation that has left it with little room to maneuver on the issue, analysts said earlier this week.

The protests in Vietnam last week that erupted in the wake of China’s deployment of an oil rig in contested waters near the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) turned violent, damaging hundreds of foreign-run businesses in the country.

As the fourth-largest source of foreign investment for Vietnam, properties owned by Taiwanese investors saw much more significant damage than those owned by Singaporean, Japanese or South Korean firms in terms of the number of businesses affected and their losses, Vietnamese Representative to Taiwan Bui Trong Van said.

Taiwan is in competition with China and Vietnam over ownership of the Paracel Islands, but the way President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration handled the situation has been characterized by timidity that signaled weakness, analysts said.

The Republic of China (ROC) was the first country to control the islands in the region and has continued with its claim on the territories, but “very little” has been done by the Ma administration over the years to strengthen its sovereignty claim, said Liu Fu-kuo (劉復國), a research fellow in the Institute of International Relations at National Chengchi University.

Liu said the government has been positioning itself as an “onlooker” on South China Sea issues.

The fierce reaction some Vietnamese had to China’s move near the Paracel Islands highlighted the importance of Taiwan siding with China on the South China Sea issues because cross-strait cooperation would send a message to Vietnam and to other South China Sea claimants that the territories claimed by Taiwan and China are inviolable, Liu said.

Over the past 10 years, Vietnam and the Philippines, not China, have acted unilaterally to assert control of disputed territories in the region, contrary to the agreed-upon principles set forth in the ASEAN-China Declaration on the Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea signed in 1992 and adopted in 2002 in a bid to ease tensions, Liu said.

Liu said that the Ma administration has qualms about cooperation with China on South China Sea issues because “the role Taiwan can play in the region is subject to and susceptible to US strategic interests in East Asia.”

The widely held negative view of the rise of China among its neighbors also makes the government hesitant in cross-strait cooperation in the area, Liu added.

The Ma administration has been “caught in the middle between the US and China” on the South China Sea issues, said Michael Gau (高聖惕), a professor at the Institute of the Law of the Sea at National Taiwan Ocean University.

Although Taiwan also claims sovereignty over the Paracel Islands and almost all of the South China Sea, it may only get itself into trouble for whatever position it takes on any conflict between two or more parties in a territorial dispute in the region, Guo said.

In the case of the Vietnam-China dispute, Taiwan cannot side with China against Vietnam, despite Taiwan and China sharing almost identical claims over the Paracel Islands because “behind Vietnam is the US,” Guo said.

“How could we [Taiwan] not listen to the US?” he said.

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