Mon, Sep 05, 2016 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: Legal experts debate tribunal ruling

SOUTH CHINA SEA:A seminar was held last month to discuss the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s decision in a case brought by Manila and the Tsai administration’s reaction

By Alison Hsiao  /  Staff reporter

President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) criticism of a recent international court ruling that Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island, 太平島) was legally a “rock” has tainted Taiwan’s image in the international law community, highlighted the legal bind of Taiwan’s claim to sovereignty over Itu Aba and allied Taiwan with China in a South China Sea territory dispute, academics said.

Tsai said The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling was “absolutely unacceptable.”

The Taiwan Society of International Law last month held a seminar focused on the ruling and its potential impact on Taiwan — a month after the court issued its ruling in a case brought by the Philippines.

Society president Yen Ching-chang (顏慶章) said he called for discussions last month so that Taiwanese could weigh in on the issue in a “calmer state of mind.”

Polls have found that a majority of Taiwanese support the idea of the president visiting Itu Aba to “declare sovereignty over the island.”

The psychological mechanism that caused the ruling to endanger the Republic of China’s (ROC) sovereignty over the island is not entirely unfathomable.

The outcry could be a knee-jerk reaction to the fact that court’s “unilateral” decision came in a case where neither parties represented Taiwan, despite the nation’s interests being affected, which is a situation the nation has to confront quite often in a global community where it is not widely recognized and barred from joining the largest international organizations.

With the ruling, Taiwan has been forced to face up to the reality that it is represented by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on the international stage as the “Taiwan Authority of China” and that a ruling that aims to restrict the PRC could affect Taiwan as collateral damage.

Another possible reason for the uproar might come from those who tacitly identify with China’s so-called “nine-dash line,” which Raymond Sung (宋承恩), a researcher with National Chengchi University’s Research Center for International Legal Studies, said is of little difference from Taiwan’s “11-dash line” and actually came from the ROC.

It could be that for these people, insofar as China’s “nine-dash line” was ruled spurious by the court, the ROC’s “11-dash line,” on which the government bases its claim to Itu Aba, is likewise doomed.

No matter which line of thought was behind the outcry, the anxiety has been palpable and prompted tough words from Tsai: It was unacceptable that Itu Aba was downgraded — from an island to a “rock” — and it was unacceptable that Taiwan was downgraded to the “Taiwan Authority of China.”

However, behind the double protests lies an inconsistency: If Taiwan acts in a way that views the South China Sea as “ancestral Chinese properties,” the second protest is a non-starter.

At the seminar, Sung said that the court reserved room for Taiwan to be “the third party” in the arbitration.

There remains the question that if the ROC is not recognized and “Taiwan Authority of China” is not acceptable for Taiwan, “what is left for Taiwan to choose for its identity [and to use to take a firm stand in international rulings?]” he said.

He said the term “Formosa,” which the tribunal constantly referred to when laying out Itu Aba’s history, is a good indication.

In a separate article, he said that the award is a “love letter” to Taiwan, with the tribunal — as it showed in its ruling — demonstrating that it was not unaware of Taiwan’s status and its intricate history.

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