United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 5, 2016
Executive Summary: The US has been pressuring Taipei, demanding that we state our position on the nine-dashed line more clearly. It hopes our side will relinquish its own claim voluntarily. If President Cai cozies up to the US, the Mainland is sure to react negatively. Cross-Strait relations will deteriorate. Our side would effectively have relinquished its territorial sovereignty. The new government must consider its response carefully.
Full Text Below:
The Hague Permanent Court of Arbitration will “rule” on the Philippines' South China Sea arbitration suit on the 12th. This is the most closely watched arbitration case of the decade. It impacts the relationship between China and Southeast Asia. It also impacts Sino-US and cross-Strait relations. The Tsai government must weigh its options and respond with care.
Mainland China's position has been to reject arbitration, in order to avoid being boxed in by any unfavorable finding. Two years ago, the CCP issued a "Position Paper on South China Sea Arbitration Jurisdiction". The paper criticized Philippine claims pertaining to sovereignty and lines of demarcation. It refused to recognize the Hague Tribunal's claim of jurisdiction. Beijing knows that the outcome of the arbitration will affect the international atmosphere and alienate ASEAN. Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Brunei, Cambodia, and Laos this year. The three countries expressed support for the Mainland's position. This provoked dissatisfaction among other ASEAN countries. During a special meeting last month with ASEAN foreign ministers, the Mainland objected to interference from Japan, the US, and other countries outside the South China Sea region. A number of ASEAN countries rejected the Mainland's objection, and the meeting adjourned without any agreement. Clearly the arbitration case has divided ASEAN.
The South China Sea issue is not merely an issue that concerns ASEAN and the Mainland. It also concerns the Mainland's rise in the world and US hegemony. The Mainland has repeatedly stressed that the US is not a disputant in the South China Sea issue. It has blasted US statements about the South China Sea, and blocked or warned off US warships.
Newly elected Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has a more flexible attitude than his predecessor Aquino. He hopes to resolve the territorial dispute with the Mainland in a reasonable fashion. He says that even if the Philippines wins the arbitration, it will not go to war with the Mainland over Huangyan Island. Beijing has high expectations regarding Duterte, and hopes he will be willing to consult with Beijing. As a result, it has made a number of moves. It has offered the inducement of a high-speed rail project in the Philippines. Xi Jingping called to congratulate Duterte during his inauguration. He declared that "the two nations are neighbors forever". He allowed Filipino fishing boats to transit disputed waters. That said, Duterte's room for compromise remains limited. The United States is the chief instigator behind demands for arbitration. If compromises on sovereignty in the South China Sea lead to allegations of treason, Duterte will dare not act rashly.
The ROC government has taken a “viewing tigers fight each other on a neighboring mountain” posture regarding the South China Sea dispute. The initital complaint filed by the Philippines did not mention Taiping Island. Later on, in a written supplement, the Philippines alleged that Taiping Island, the largest island in the South China Sea is merely a reef. It made the same allegations about the second and third largest islands, which are also owned by the ROC. The Philippines seeks to invalidate the 200 nautical mile economic zone provision in the International Convention on the Law of the Sea, for all islands in the South China Sea. Doing so would enable the Philippines to claim waters starting from the Philippines coast. Therefore like it or not, the ROC is involved in the territorial waters dispute. That is why President Ma visited Taiping Island – to ensure that the international tribunal could not ignore the legitimate rights and interests of the ROC.
Beijing expects the result of international arbitration to be unfavorable to China. In recent months it has been clarifying its position through international law experts. Its Foreign Ministry has prepared a white paper to be distributed as soon as the results of the arbitration are announced. As for the ROC position, Tsai government aides are said to be working on it, and the government's policy has yet to be finalized. If so, the Tsai government must pay attention to several points.
First, Taipei has never at any time participated in the arbitration. So should Taipei accept the verdict? Some think we should wait for the results. If Taiping Island is classified as an island rather than a reef, they say we should accept it. If not, we should protest the result and reject it. Unfortunately one cannot selectively accept or reject the findings of arbitration. Accepting a favorable ruling on Taiping Island means accepting a unilateral decision by the Hague. It means that in the event of later disputes, we cannot claim we were not consulted beforehand.
Secondly, if Taiping Island is ruled to be the only island in the South China Sea, what are the repercussions? Taiping Island's special status would then make it the brass ring that everyone is attempting to snatch. Our military has no concrete plan to defend the island. The Coast Guard's firepower is inadequate. If foreign vessels provoke incidents, will we be able to stop them?
Finally, how should the ROC government respond to the Hague tribunal's ruling on the Mainland's "nine-dashed line"? The Ma government did its utmost to avoid mention of the PRC's nine-dashed line or the ROC's eleven-dashed line. Instead, it made a four part declaration: “Sovereignty belong to us. Disputes should be shelved. Peace is mutually beneficial. Resources should be Jointly developed”. Continuity of government remains a concern. Should President Tsai continue President Ma's policy? Can she offer something even better?
The US has been pressuring Taipei, demanding that we state our position on the nine-dashed line more clearly. It hopes our side will relinquish its own claim voluntarily. If President Cai cozies up to the US, the Mainland is sure to react negatively. Cross-Strait relations will deteriorate. Our side would effectively have relinquished its territorial sovereignty. The new government must consider its response carefully.