President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) on Thursday reiterated that Taiwan holds sovereignty over Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island, 太平島) and said that any international court ruling that downgrades the legal status of Itu Aba from an “island” to a “rock” would be illegal and would hurt Taiwanese sovereignty.
“Whether from the perspective of history, geography or international law, it is indisputable that the Spratly Islands [Nansha Islands, 南沙群島], Paracel Islands [Xisha Islands, 西沙群島], the Macclesfield Bank [Zhongsha Islands, 中沙群島] and Pratas Islands [Dongsha Islands, 東沙群島] in the South China Sea, and their surrounding waters, are inherent parts of the territory of the ROC [Republic of China],” Ma said at a seminar on South China Sea disputes and international law.
That is why when Philippine lawyers argued in an international arbitration court that Itu Aba Island was not an island, but a rock, the government felt compelled to defend the legal status of Taiwan’s territory, Ma said.
The Philippines is trying to prove that Itu Aba Island is not an island and that, therefore, smaller islets claimed by China in the region are also rocks and are not entitled to an economic exclusive zone under international law.
In its lawsuit in The Hague, the Philippines said that “some rocks” do not qualify for a claim to territorial waters in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Ma said that although Taiwan is an important claimant in the case, it has not been invited to appear before the court.
If the court accepts the argument made by Philippine lawyers, it would seriously hurt Taiwan’s sovereign rights and constitute a violation of the UNCLOS, Ma said.
Itu Aba, the largest island in the disputed Spratly archipelago, meets the description of an island as defined in Article 121 of the UNCLOS, Ma said.
Ma said he has invited Philippine officials, representatives and lawyers to visit Taiping to witness the high-quality fresh water source and the ecology.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday invited international law academics who participated in the seminar to tour Taiping.
Taiwan, China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei claim all or part of the islands and reefs in the South China Sea, which are thought to be rich in oil and natural gas reserves.
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