A group of Taiwanese fishermen is planning to sail to Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island, 太平島) in the South China Sea to protect the nation’s fishing rights, in response to a ruling by the International Court of Arbitration in The Hague that declared the formation a “rock” and rejected its right to an exclusive economic zone.
After fishermen from Pingtung County’s Donggang Township (東港) on Friday proposed to go to Itu Aba to assert Taiwan’s sovereignty claim and safeguard their fishing rights, the Liouciou Fishermen’s Association expressed support for the move on Saturday.
It also encouraged fishing boats operating near Itu Aba to join the campaign, but it was not clear when the fishermen intend to make the trip.
They might need the help or approval of government authorities to land on Itu Aba because it is a government-controlled area.
The fishermen said they made the proposal out of frustration with President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) administration’s response to Tuesday’s ruling by the international court, which they described as being “too weak.”
In a case brought by the Philippines against China, the court ruled that none of the formations in the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島), including Itu Aba, could be considered “islands” and therefore were not entitled to 200 nautical mile (370.4km) exclusive economic zones under international law.
A “rock” is only entitled to a 12 nautical mile exclusive economic zone.
The government, which was not party to the case, has said it does not accept the ruling and that it is not binding on Taiwan.
The Coast Guard Administration has said that it will step up patrols in the South China Sea to protect the nation’s fishermen.
The fishermen’s campaign has received the support of the Republican Party.
Republican Party Chairwoman Hsu Hsin-ying (徐欣瑩) urged Tsai to take concrete steps to demonstrate her administration’s determination to safeguard the nation’s sovereignty and said the government should not let Taiwanese fishermen fight alone.
“The government should send the navy back to Itu Aba to protect the nation’s territory,” she said.
Itu Aba has been protected by the Coast Guard since marines stationed there were ordered to return to Taiwan in 1999 by then-president Lee Teng-hui’s (李登輝) administration, in a gesture of good will aimed at reducing regional tension.
Taiwan has long defined the 0.51km2 formation as an island that can sustain human habitation and economic life.
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