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benefits in Spratly
initiative By Cheng-yi
claimants bypassed the Taiwan
government in Taipei for negotiations, Beijing may
be willing to talk and respond to the questions
from Vietnam and the Philippines over the
implications of this airstrip for the tripartite
Agreement for Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking in
Vietnam has so far issued the
sternest response to the airstrip on Taiping
Island, which Hanoi also considers a part of its
territories. After a successful C-130 military
transport aircraft test run to the island by
Taiwan on January 24, Vietnam Foreign Ministry
spokesman Le Dzung publicly urged Taiwan "to
immediately stop this activity and not to commit
similar violations in this area". On February 2,
Le Dzung said Vietnam further "denounces the visit of
Taiwanese leader Chen Shui-bian
to Ba Binh Island, Truong Sa archipelago".
Hanoi believed it was "an extremely
serious act of escalation, violating Vietnamís
territorial sovereignty over the Truong Sa
archipelago, causing tension and more complication
to the region. Taiwan is fully responsible for all
consequences caused by their move".
Philippines regards the Taiwanese airstrip on
Taiping (Ligao) Island as a diplomatic and
political issue rather than a military matter.
Secretary of Foreign Affairs Alberto Romulo
formally issued a statement expressing "serious
concern over this reported development that works
against the joint efforts by claimant countries in
the South China Sea to achieve peace and stability
in the region in accordance with the Declaration
on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea".
Secretary Romulo also stated that it is
"unfortunate that Taiwan is resorting to what may
be considered as irresponsible political posturing
that could be of no possible advantage to the
peace-loving Taiwanese people".
the Philippines have provided mutual assistance
over emergency needs in the occupied islands. For
instance, through the arrangement of the Red Cross
Association and rescue coordination, Philippine
aircraft once flew over Taiping Island to airdrop
medical aid for Taiwanese Coast Guard personnel.
In November 2007, the Philippine government asked
Taipei for help in searching for a S211 military
trainer missing in operations 50 nautical miles to
the north of the Taiping Island.
missing link Even in the absence of any
official treaty for formal cooperation with other
claimants to the Spratly Islands, Taiwan has long
exercised self-restraint in the disputed areas,
and Taipei would like to become a participant and
signatory to the Code of Conduct in the South
China Sea. Taiwan supports the idea of temporarily
shelving the sovereignty dispute in order to
explore ways of jointly developing, managing and
policing the South China Sea.
then-President Lee Teng-hui proposed that a
multinational South China Sea Development Company
with funds of US$10 billion be established, with
the profits from its activities used for
infrastructure development in ASEAN countries.
While other claimants focused their attention on
the airstrip, they failed to comment on the
so-called Spratly Initiative just announced by
President Chen on Taiping Island, through which
Taiwan can contribute to peace in the Spratly
Among the four points underscored
by Chen's Spratly Initiative, he first committed
that Taiwan is willing to accept in principle the
Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South
China Sea, and he advocated peaceful means of
resolving territorial and jurisdictional disputes.
Second, Chen suggested that the countries
concerned agree to recognize the region as an
ecological protection area where the depletion of
resources would be forbidden.
proposed a plan to have international ecologists
and environmentalists conduct research on a
regular basis around the area of Tungsha Island,
Taiping Island, and Zhongzhou Reef (Ban Than
Reef), which is located between the Taiping Island
and Vietnamese-occupied Dungian Shazhou (Sand
Fourth, Chen encouraged the
establishment of a non-governmental South China
Sea research center to serve as a second-track
diplomatic channel to alleviate tension in the
South China Sea.
On February 10, Chen
elaborated on his idea of creating a maritime
ecological preservation area in the South China
Sea based on the Micronesia Challenge, which was
initiated by Taiwan's diplomatic ally Palau in the
South Pacific to "effectively conserve at least
30% of the near-shore marine and 20% of the
terrestrial resources across Micronesia by the
year 2020" .
Chenís Spratly Initiative
may turn out to be too difficult to be implemented
since Taiwan has no official diplomatic ties with
any of the other claimants. The PRC, however, may
find it of interest to coordinate with Taiwan over
joint cooperative projects in the South China Sea,
though it will be on a second-track basis rather
than any efforts to bring Taiwan into the fold of
a multilateral cooperative program.
is less concerned about the possibility of China
or other ASEAN claimants employing force against
the Taiping Island. Beijing could hardly justify
taking military actions against the Taiping Island
when other claimants are occupying Chinese claimed
territories. Vietnam is wary of provoking Taiwan's
garrison lest they might invite a military
response from Beijing. Taipei knows that it is
difficult to effectively defend Taiping Island and
an airstrip would demonstrate its efforts to close
the security gap. With the construction of the
airstrip on Taiping, Taipei might reconsider its
insufficient attention paid to the South China
A crisis in the Taiwan Strait could
easily trigger a domino effect and escalate
tensions in the South China Sea. For instance, in
potential scenarios of military confrontations
drawn out in Taiwan's defense circles there is a
worry that the PRC could launch a long-distance
blockade of the sea-lanes of communications
southwest of Taiwan.
If, as some fear,
Taiwan is absorbed by Beijing, the Chinese would
then occupy the two largest islands in the South
China Sea. If that is the case, it might be too
late for Taiwan's neighbors in the region to
realize that Taiwan or its military presence in
the South China Sea can, in fact, be a buffer
between them and mainland China's military.
Notes 1. Yann-huei Song, "The
Overall Situation in the South China Sea in the
New Millennium: Before and After the September 11
Terrorist Attacks," Ocean Development and
International Law, No. 34 (2003), p. 241. 2. 2002
National Defense Report, Republic of China
(Taipei: Ministry of Defense, 2002), p.20; 2004
National Defense Report, Republic of China
(Taipei: Ministry of Defense, 2004), p.10. 3.
Ibid., p. 93. 4. "Micronesia Challenge", cited in
http://www.palau.biodiv-chm. org/ index.php?
Cheng-yi Lin, Ph.D., is the
former Chairman of the Institute for Taiwan
Defense and Strategic Studies and currently a
Research Fellow in the Institute of European and
American Studies at Academia Sinica.