Southeast Asia | Taiwan, a bystander victim in the South China Sea dispute

Taiwan, a bystander victim in the South China Sea dispute

George Koo July 27, 2016 6:21 AM (UTC+8)
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The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling on the South China Sea case has turned Taiwan’s Taiping Island into a rock. Taiwan was not even a party to the dispute and was unaware that Taiping Island was included in the litigation. US appears to be the instigator of the suit as Philippines is asking Washington to reimburse $30 million spent as legal expenses and fees for the case. Taipei shares common ground with Beijing after the unfavorable sea ruling and the two should stand united in opposing the American hegemony.

Over the weekend, the BaoDiao folks in the Bay Area held a press conference to voice their protest against the South China Sea ruling by Permanent Court of Arbitration in Hague.

Supporters pose for photos with Taiwanese fishermen before setting sail to Itu Aba, which Taiwan calls Taiping, in protest against a tribunal's ruling on the South China Sea, in Pingtung, Taiwan
Supporters pose for photos with Taiwanese fishermen before setting sail to Itu Aba, which Taiwan calls Taiping, Taiwan’s sole holding in the disputed Spratly Islands, in protest against a tribunal’s ruling on the South China Sea, in Pingtung, Taiwan July 20, 2016. REUTERS/Damon Lin

The ruling has turned the largest island and the only one held by Taiwan, the Taiping Island, into a rock and denied the Taiwan government of the 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

BaoDiao is Chinese shorthand for the movement to defend China’s sovereignty over the Diao Yu Islands in East China Sea. The movement began in 1972 in response to the US handing over the islands to Japan. (The Japanese government calls them Senkaku Islands.)

According to the Cairo Conference and subsequent Potsdam Declaration, the terms of Japan’s unconditional surrender to end WWII include giving up all claims to outlying islands in the Pacific, Diao Yu Islands included. The American government reneged on the terms in favor of Japan at the expense of China.

The tug of war over the Diao Yu Islands continues to this day and BaoDiao chapters in various forms have proliferated around the globe wherever significant numbers of overseas Chinese reside, as well as, of course, in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the mainland.

A lighthouse is seen in Itu Aba, which the Taiwanese call Taiping, at the South China Sea,
A lighthouse is seen in Itu Aba, which the Taiwanese call Taiping, at the South China Sea, March 23, 2016. REUTERS/Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Handout via Reuters

Some of the original joiners of that movement were student hotheads in those days. Now, the remaining ones are senior citizens who nonetheless continue to be full of passion and feelings to defend what has rightfully belonged to China. The Bay Area folks mostly identify “China” as the Republic of China or Taiwan.

At the conference, after the organizers rose to present their prepared remarks, some 20 members in the audience were invited to speak. Each got up and spoke in agitation with rising decibels as they expressed their outrage over the acts of American imperialism against ROC’s sovereignty and national interest.

This group vehemently objected to the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s (PCA’s) capricious ruling that rendered Taiping Island (Itu Aba) from an island with 200 mile of EEZ into a rock with a mere 12 mile EEZ. The ruling was made despite Taiping meeting all the official qualifications of an island, namely the island has own sources of fresh water and can and has sustained human life for decades.

Conversely, the US NOAA claims that US possessions of Johnston Atoll, Palmyra Atoll and Kingman Reef do qualify as islands and the therefore the 200 mile of EEZ. None of the three has sources of fresh water and cannot sustain human life. Kingman Reef is even completely submerged at high tide. (These three “rocks” are located in the middle of the Pacific south of the Hawaii islands.)

Japan claims 200 mile EEZ on an outcrop located over 1,000 miles south of Tokyo. Thanks to the use of reinforced concrete to keep the sand from being washed away, Japan government has claimed Okinotorishima as an island. At high tide, highest point is about 6 inches above the ocean. Total area above the ocean is around 100 sq. ft. Needless to say, no fresh water and no way for humans to survive.

However, rocks in the possession of the U.S. or Japan become bona fide islands while a real island in Taiwan’s possession is merely a rock. The conveners were furious over the double standard and the betrayal by allegedly Taiwan’s two best friends, namely Japan and the US.

According to the most recent reports in the media, the Philippines government has requested from the US government the reimbursement of the $30 million spent by the Philippines as legal expenses and fees in filing the case with the PCA.

Apparently, the Philippines served as the stalking horse for Washington and the US has been behind-the-scene instigator of this suit for arbitration.

The official international recognition that Taiping Island and the U shape lines around South China Sea belong to China has been established since 1947. The US even assisted ROC in taking control of some of the islands from the Japanese troops stationed there during WWII.

To challenge China (ROC or PRC) on their claims of the U shape lines around South China Sea is a challenge of their sovereignty. PCA has no affiliation with the UN or with the International Court of Justice and has no legal jurisdiction to rule on issues related to sovereignty. This is why Beijing has ignored the PCA.

The 200 miles of EEC is important to the fishing industry and livelihood of the Taiwan people. The ruling, if allowed to stand, will jeopardize Taiwan people’s economic interest.

This is a clear example of how the might of a hegemon can overwhelm the interests of an island entity of 23 million people. Taipei was not even a party to the dispute submitted to the PCA and was unaware that Taiping Island was included in the litigation.

While Beijing will continue to build and expand the islands in their possession because PRC is strong enough to stand up to the US, Taiwan needs to find allies. In this dispute, the Taipei government shares common ground with Beijing and two sides should stand united in opposing the American hegemony, according to the BaoDiao protesters.

Commentators inside Taiwan are already criticizing President Tsai for acting soft and unwilling to stand up to the US and assert Taiwan’s rights on Taiping Island. They are accusing Tsai of being ready to give up ownership of Taiping Island just to stay on the good side of America—and not have to be an awkward buddy to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The newly elected Philippines President Duterte takes a different view. He has already publicly said, “I want to work with China rather than the US. China has money and the US does not.”

Unlike his predecessor, he clearly understands being on the front line of conflict on the side of the Americans is not a winning proposition for the Philippines.

Dr. George Koo recently retired from a global advisory services firm where he advised clients on their China strategies and business operations. Educated at MIT, Stevens Institute and Santa Clara University, he is the founder and former managing director of International Strategic Alliances. He is a member of the Committee of 100, and a director of New America Media.

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George Koo
Dr. George Koo recently retired from a global advisory services firm where he advised clients on their China strategies and business operations. Educated at MIT, Stevens Institute and Santa Clara University, he is the founder and former managing director of International Strategic Alliances. He is a member of the Committee of 100, and a director of New America Media.
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