United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 13, 2016
Executive Summary: Five judges handed down an obtuse and unjust “ruling” that ignored historical facts and international realities. The tribunal pandered to US hegemony, revealed flagrant favoritism, and attempted to change the existing order in the South China Sea by decree. The tribunal was simultaneously delusional and naive. Most regrettably, the new government remains oblivious about these developments. As a result the entire nation was stunned by the outcome. How can one not be distraught?
Full Text Below:
Yesterday the Hague “Permanent Court of Arbitration” ruled that the PRC has no legal basis for its nine-dotted line claim, and that the ROC's Taiping Island is a "reef" that lacks an Exclusive Economic Zone, rather than an "island". This ruling is categorically unacceptable to both Taipei and Beijing. The tribunal ignored facts, revealed its bias, and demonstrated its obtuseness. Its myopia is certain to provoke even more disputes in the South China Sea.
First, in order to grant the Philippines a favorable ruling, the “Permanent Court of Arbitration” classified all islands in the South China Sea as “reefs”, including Nansha Island. It even classified Taiping Island, the largest island in the region, which belongs to the ROC and is clearly an island suitable for human habitation, as a "reef". This, as the Chinese expression goes, is “pointing to a deer and calling it a horse”. The “ruling” ignores reality, has zero credibility, and does the ROC a gross injustice. In response, the president has issued a statement protesting the tribunal, which never invited the ROC to participate, and which has trampled over our rights in the South China Sea. We will never accept the outcome of this arbitration. We support the government's position, and call on the ruling and opposition parties to back the government on this issue.
Second, the tribunal alleged that the Mainland's nine-dotted line was illegal, thereby trampling over the Mainland's rights. The United States, Japan and other countries claim that the Mainland, as a party to the "United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea", must accept binding arbitration. But Beijing long ago announced that it “would not accept, would not participate in, and would not recognize" any “rulings” by the tribunal. Mainland Foreign Affairs Office Chief Executive Dai Bingguo was even more blunt. Dai dismissed the ruling as "nothing more than a piece of scrap paper". Clearly any attempt to change the situation in the South China Sea by the tribunal is futile.
In fact, the arbitrary and biased “ruling” may well lead to even more disputes. For example, the tribunal first ruled that Huangyan Island was a reef. It then ruled that Huangyan Island was part of the Exclusive Economic Zone of Luzon, and that the Philippines could engage in fishing, oil and gas exploration, mining, and scientific research in the island's waters. But Huangyan Island is currently occupied by the Mainland. Beijing is not about to simply hand it over. The “ruling” may force the Mainland to engage in even more aggressive land reclamation efforts. When Philippine fishing or research boats attempt to enter, even more violent conflicts could occur.
Furthermore, the “ruling” may force Beijing to escalate foreign policy confrontation. Beijing has long regarded the area within the nine-dotted line as China's territorial waters. Some in Beijing even propose the establishment of a South China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone to defend its sovereignty. Given nationalist sentiment on the mainland, Beijing is concerned about popular sentiment. It has instructed relevant agencies to maintain an around the clock state of wartime alert to deal with unexpected eventualities.
Before the “rulings” were announced, the United States was worried the PLA would move against disputed islands and reefs, including Renai Reef and Huangyan Island. The United States felt the need to preempt with military deterrence. It dispatched aircraft carriers and cruisers to the South China Sea. Beijing was worried that once the “ruling” was announced, the US military would invade nine islands and reefs occupied by Mainland ships. It felt the need to mobilize three fleets consisting of hundreds of warships and hundreds of warplanes to the North China Sea, East China Sea, and South China Sea. It held live fire exercises to forestall any unexpected developments. The two sides maneuvered back and forth through the region, but without any immediate risk of conflict. For now at least, both Mainland and US actions were limited to demonstrations, not provocations.
The United States and the Chinese mainland confronted each other in the South China Sea, without actually clashing. The “ruling” was the worst possible outcome. But both Beijing and Taipei were losers. Therefore it did not lead to further deterioration in cross-Strait relations. Recently, rumors emerged that the DPP government was prepared to "fine tune" its South China Sea sovereignty claims. Rumors were that it might forsake the Kuomintang government's claims regarding "inherent territory", “historical sovereignty", and the “eleven-dotted line". Its motive? To ensure that the international community did not perceive Taiwan and the Mainland as acting in concert. Now the “Permanent Court of Arbitration” in the Hague has ruled that Taiping Island is not an island. How can Taipei acquiesce to the Hague “ruling” on the "nine-dotted line"? The “ruling” has ironically put Taipei and Beijing on the same side of the South China Sea battle line.
The Presidential Office issued a statement yesterday. She reiterated that the "South China Sea islands and their waters belong to the Republic of China. This is the Republic of China's position. We intend to defend the territory and sovereignty of our country". Such a statement ought not provoke the Mainland or the US. This is the key to the controversy over the “ruling”.
Five judges handed down an obtuse and unjust “ruling” that ignored historical facts and international realities. The tribunal pandered to US hegemony, revealed flagrant favoritism, and attempted to change the existing order in the South China Sea by decree. The tribunal was simultaneously delusional and naive. Most regrettably, the new government remains oblivious about these developments. As a result the entire nation was stunned by the outcome. How can one not be distraught?