Taiwan should face the thorny issue of its “national status” in international lawsuits, an academic said in Taipei yesterday, adding that the nation could “seriously entertain the possibility of partly accepting an arbitral tribunal’s ruling on the South China Sea.”
In a case brought by the Philippines against China, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Nehterlands, said in a ruling on July 12 that all high-tide features in the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島), including Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island, 太平島), are legally “rocks” rather than islands and therefore are not entitled to 200 nautical mile (370.4km) exclusive economic zones.
At a seminar discussing the ruling and its impact on Taiwan, Raymond Chen-en Sung (宋承恩), a researcher affiliated with National Chengchi University’s Research Center for International Legal Studies, said that Taiwan should no longer avoid the issue of its national status, as “it would continue to haunt us if more maritime disputes are brought up, with Vietnam being a possible next claimant” that would bring its dispute with China to the tribunal.
Sung said the tribunal “actually reserved room for Taiwan to be the third party” in the arbitration, but the way the previous administration tried to justify its sovereignty over Itu Aba had entirely been in sync with China’s so-called historical claims.
“The tribunal did not outright state that [Taiwan] is [no different from] China,” he said, adding that a judge during oral arguments raised the question of whether the People’s Republic of China could “issue acts which are of legal relevance in international law for Taiwan, the Republic of China.”
The Philippines’ attorneys claimed during oral arguments that “any acts undertaken — or statements made — by representatives or organs of the Republic of China after October 1949, which had established itself in Taiwan, cannot, as a matter of law, be attributable to China.”
Sung said the Philippines has, with the statement, skillfully recognized that there are two different entities across the Taiwan Strait.
The academic then questioned former president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) inaction when China made claims about Taiping Island, contesting the tribunal’s jurisdiction on the matter in late 2014.
“When Beijing protested the Philippines’ leaving out Taiping Island, thereby violating China’s claim to the island emanating from the ‘one China’ principle, Ma did not protest,” Jung said.
Nor did the former administration voice any protests against the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ claims that China has unquestionable sovereignty over Itu Aba Island, Sung added.
He asked the government to partly accept the international court’s ruling by acknowledging that the South China Sea “belongs to everyone,” but at the same time continue to claim sovereignty over Taiping Island.
“We could ask whether other nations, including the US and Japan that controls small islets, would agree to accept this year’s arbitration award as the criterion for determining an island’s status,” Sung added.
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