Monday, June 20, 2011

Garrison Troops: Demonstrate Sovereignty Over the South China Sea

Garrison Troops: Demonstrate Sovereignty Over the South China Sea
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
June 21, 2011

More disputes have arisen over the South China Sea. The Republic of China is a nation that borders the South China Sea. It also occupies its largest island -- Taiping Island. From any perspective -- symbolism, sovereignty, or actual control -- the ROC undeniably has rights in the region. The ROC must not be silent on the matter of the South China Sea. But it must be judicious about how it expresses that sovereignty.

Nations claiming sovereignty in the South China Sea have recently begun increasing their military presence. They have engaged in military exercises, to prevent sudden military crises. For the first time, Beijing has entered South China Sea waters, and visited islands in the South China Sea. For three days and nights, it conducted maritime military exercises in regional waters. The Philippines, which is militarily weak, also dispatched old World War II warships to patrol the South China Sea. Vietnam has been among the most active nations in the region. It has held live-fire exercises. It has also implemented conscription. It has allegedly stationed troops on a Taiping Island sandbar. It is conducting reconnaissance, using high-tech electronic devices.

The Republic of China has also responded to the recent situation. Our Coast Guard regularly cruises the Tungsha and Nansha Islands ("Spratly Islands"). It sends a supply ship to the Tungsha Islands once a month. Taiping Island is more distant. Supply ships visit with the cooperation of the military each March, June, and September. The "Blue Sea 92" project was carried out in late June of this year. Chen Kung class, Chung Ho class, and 2000 ton "Satellite" Coast Guard cutters set out and performed their regular duties.

According to media reports, the Department of Defense will also be providing Seagull class missile boats, M41A3 Walker Bulldog tanks, and other weapons to forces stationed on Taiping Island. The Department of Defense denies these reports, calling them pure fiction. The Department of Defense said that the personnel stationed on Tungsha and Nansha Island are Coast Guard personnel. The Department of Defense says it has not dispatched troops to the islands.

Our government's initial response has been appropriately cautious. It has denied any military buildup, out of fear that other countries would take countermeasures. The ROC government would then be blamed for triggering an arms race. Actually, we have been sending supply ships to the islands every three months, for years. To suddenly halt such shipments for fear of criticism, would be an overreaction. It would unwisely sacrifice our rights, for no purpose. The long term challenge for the ROC is how to underscore our sovereignty and to ensure that we are heard on the issue of the South China Sea.

The Republic of China's official position on South China Sea sovereignty is based on its historical territory during the 1940s. The Southeast Asian countries are most concerned about the U-shaped map. That map represents Beijing's position on South China Sea sovereignty. When the DPP was in power, it attempted to draw a line between itself and Beijing on the issue, by making changes. In February 2008, Chen Shui-bian twice set foot on Taiping Island to trumpet his "Nansha Initiative." He called on countries neighboring the South China Sea to abide by the UN Charter and the United Nations Law of the Sea Treaty, and to ensure the peaceful settlement of South China Sea disputes. He said the ROC was willing to accept the Declaration on Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, on the basis of sovereign equality. He said the ROC was willing to participate in the "South China Sea Code of Conduct" then under development. But cross-Strait tensions were running high at the time, and no country was willing to respond to Chen Shui-bian's proposal, for fear of offending Beijing.

When the KMT returned to power, our government's position on the South China Sea issue changed. The government reaffirmed that the islands belong to the Republic of China. The Ma administration repeatedly protested violations of ROC sovereignty in the South China Sea. It called upon countries to abide by the UN Charter and the principles and spirit of the United Nations Declaration on Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. It urged the shelving of disputes, consultations and dialogue, and peaceful settlement of South China Sea disputes, avoiding unilateral moves that might undermine peace in the region.

Taipei has asserted its sovereignty over the Tungsha and Nansha Islands, in the name of the Republic of China. Beijing has asserted its sovereignty over the Hsisha Islands ("Paracel Islands") in the name of the Peoples Republic of China. Oddly enough, neither side has protested the other's position. This has caused other countries to doubt Taipei's position. Privately they have criticized Taipei, saying it has allowed itself to be influenced by Beijing. But realistically speaking, we would find it difficult to retreat from our long held position. We would be criticized on Taiwan for forsaking our established borders, as clearly delineated in the Republic of China Constitution. We would also find it impossible to explain our position to Beijing. Are we edging toward Taiwan independence? We would be caught on the horns of a dilemma.

That said, the Republic of China controls Taiping Island. That in itself amounts to a clear assertion of our sovereignty. Taiping Island is the region's sole source of freshwater. It is one of the few points in the South China Sea with runways for aircraft. It is small compared to other countries' islets and and reefs. But it has far greater strategic value. In future negotiations on the South China Sea, Taipei cannot be ignored.

How precisely will Taipei seek a seat at the negotiating table? For the ruling administration, this may be a dangerous trap. Handled improperly, it could leave the public deeply disaffected.

Taipei is not a member of the United Nations. We have no way to submit our government's data on our exclusive economic zone to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. Protests from Beijing also make it impossible to negotiate with neighboring countries over maritime demarcations. They make it impossible for Taipei to sit at the same table with other Southeast Asian countries during negotiations on the South China Sea.

Any long term solution to this problem must begin with cross-Strait relations. Beijing must feel confident that Taipei is not attempting to create either "two Chinas" or "one China, one Taiwan." In the short term, there will probably be no complications.

First, regarding our declaration of sovereignty, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs makes less and less mention of our historical territory. Instead, it has repeated its basic position on the South China Sea four times. "The ROC possesses sovereignty, but it sets aside disputes, reciprocates peacefully, and is willing to develop resources jointly." Our government must further allay the concerns of other countries. It must understand Southeast Asia's perspective. For example, it has reaffirmed its commitment to the South China Sea Code of Conduct.

Secondly, we should underscore our sovereignty as much possibly can. We can follow the example set by other nations. We can announce that we are granting approval for oil and gas mining. We can draw up plans for combating terrorism and piracy. We can conduct maritime search and rescue, humanitarian relief efforts, and joint naval exercises. We can dispatch our new underwater "Sea Research V" vessel to the South China Sea to conduct marine-related scientific investigation. We can draft plans for South China Sea bases. We can declare out territorial sea baseline. We can even restore the garrisons we once had. We can station Marines on Taiping Island, thereby expressing our determination to defend our sovereignty.

Thirdly, we must actively foster public interest in the South China Sea. We must ensure that the public supports the government's position on the South China Sea. Beijing and Hanoi are actively drawing up plans for travel and study to the region. Tourism involve risks. State sponsorship seems appropriate. For example, young people may wish to visit the South China Sea for summer eco-leisure activities. Enabling them to do so would encourage the younger generation to understand and attach importance to the South China Sea.

彰顯南海主權 何妨恢復駐軍
2011-06-21 中國時報
















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