Thu, Jul 21, 2016 - Page 3 News List

Distinct stance on ruling vital: academics

INACCURATE:One expert said Ma’s focus on fresh water on Itu Aba was misleading, as the definition of an ‘island’ focuses on being able to sustain human life and an economy

By Abraham Gerber  /  Staff reporter

The government should be flexible in its response to last week’s South China Sea arbitration ruling to differentiate its stance from China’s, pan-green academics said yesterday, while criticizing calls by former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to declare an exclusive economic zone around Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island, 太平島).

“The ruling is extremely advantageous to Taiwan, other than the issue of Taiping Island,” Taiwan Association of University Professors chairman Peter Chang (張信堂) said at a news conference. “Because the ‘nine-dash line’ [encompassing China’s South China Sea claims] includes Taiwan, we would be considered a part of China if it were legally valid.”

Itu Aba is the largest of the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) and is administrated by Taiwan.

A ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands, last week stating that all of the Spratlys — including Itu Aba — are “rocks” has generated a storm of controversy domestically, with Ma last week in an opinion piece calling for the government to map a 200 nautical mile (370km) exclusive economic zone around the island, citing the availability of fresh water as evidence that it should be considered an island.

“There are only two nations that have announced they will not accept the decision. One is Taiwan and the other is China, so when the government states that it does not accept the decision, it needs to explain the difference between its position and China’s,” Taiwan Thinktank deputy chief executive Lai I-chung (賴怡忠) said, adding that calls to declare an exclusive economic zone were impractical.

“The only reason we have been able to hold onto the island is because the surrounding geopolitical balance has provided a crack to survive in,” Lai said, adding that the ruling would reduce other nations’ incentive to seize the island.

“If Taiping Island were recognized as having an exclusive economic zone, it would become a prize to fight over,” he said.

“We should not totally reject the decision, because we can choose to accept the parts that are advantageous to us, while ignoring or declining to comment on the rest,” National Tsing Hua University professor of law Chris Huang (黃居政) said, adding that references to the nation as the “Taiwan Authority of China” were not unique to the arbitration ruling.

Association secretary-general Hsu Wen-tang (許文堂) said that mentions of Taiwan might be attributable to the Ma administration’s decision to submit an amicus curiae brief to the tribunal in defense of the nation’s claims.

Sung Cheng-en (宋承恩) — a researcher affiliated with the National Chengchi University Research Center for International Legal Studies — said Ma’s brief was too “timid,” while the previous administration had focused on defending territorial claims instead of fighting for recognition as an official observer or respondent in the tribunal case.

Ma’s focus on fresh water and other physical characteristics of Itu Aba was misleading, because the definition of “island” for purposes of territorial claims focuses on a feature’s ability to sustain human habitation and an economy without outside support, he said.

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