ROC defends sovereignty, fishing rights in South China Sea

  • Date: 2016-08-08

I. Background

 

On July 12, 2016, the tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration rendered its award in the South China Sea arbitration initiated in January of 2013 by the Philippines under Annex VII to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). In the award, the tribunal not only inappropriately referred to the Republic of China as the “Taiwan Authority of China,” but also declared Taiping Island (Itu Aba Island), which is ROC sovereign territory and was not originally included in the scope of the arbitration, to be a “rock” rather than an island. These decisions demean the ROC’s status as a sovereign country and severely undermine the ROC’s rights over the South China Sea Islands and their surrounding waters. The ROC government therefore deems the award completely unacceptable and declares that it is not legally binding on the ROC.

 

II. Reasons for rejecting the arbitration award
 

  1. Taiping Island can sustain human habitation and economic life of its own, and thus meets the criteria for an island as defined in UNCLOS, Article 121. The average freshwater content of the island’s four groundwater wells is over 90 percent, and the wells can supply as much as 65 metric tons of water per day. Year-round availability of abundant water resources also means the island does not become arid due to seasonal changes. Taiping Island thus provides the basic requirements necessary to sustain human life, and is unquestionably an island.
     

  2. Taiping Island was not originally included in the Philippines’ arbitration submission, but the tribunal took the liberty to expand its authority and declare that Taiping Island is a “rock.” This decision severely undermines the rights of the ROC over the South China Sea Islands and their relevant waters. Pursuant to international law and UNCLOS, the ROC enjoys all rights to the South China Sea Islands and their relevant waters.
     

  3. The arbitral tribunal did not invite the ROC to participate in its proceedings, nor did it solicit the ROC’s views. The award therefore is not legally binding on the ROC.
     

III. The ROC government position

 

  1. In accordance with international law and UNCLOS, the ROC enjoys all rights over the South China Sea Islands and their relevant waters. The government will continue to safeguard the South China Sea Islands and defend ROC sovereignty, and will not tolerate any attempts to harm the nation’s interests.
     

  2. The ROC government urges all parties to settle South China Sea disputes peacefully in the spirit of setting aside differences and promoting joint development. The ROC is willing, through negotiations conducted on the basis of equality, to work with all concerned parties to promote peace and stability in the South China Sea, and protect and jointly develop marine resources.

     

  3. The ROC shall be included in any South China Sea dispute-resolution mechanism and is an indispensable party in any future multilateral mechanism for the peaceful resolution of South China Sea disputes. Without ROC participation, no mechanism will be capable of resolving such disputes.

     

  4. The ROC hopes to open multilateral dialogue with other concerned parties as soon as possible. It also wishes to promote peace and stability by establishing cooperative mechanisms on non-security issues including South China Sea environmental protection, scientific research, maritime anti-crime efforts, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

 

IV. Protect Taiwanese fishermen, defend fishing rights

 

The South China Sea is a traditional fishing ground for the ROC. To protect the 200 to 300 Taiwanese fishing vessels that frequently operate there—mostly longliners and other boats—the ROC Coast Guard Administration (CGA) has increased the frequency and intensity of patrols in the South China Sea region and extended the duration of patrols in the waters surrounding Taiping Island. The arbitration award will not limit the grounds where Taiwanese fishermen can operate.

 

  1. Coast guard protection for fishermen, naval support for the coast guard

    In response to the South China Sea arbitration award, the CGA immediately stepped up patrols around Taiping Island by dispatching the Wei Hsing cutter on July 12 and the 1,000-ton Taitung on July 16. The Ministry of National Defense (MND) coordinated with the CGA to enhance surveillance of South China Sea air and sea space, and raised the command level of the nation’s Armed Forces Joint Operations Command Center. The military continues to send aircraft and ships to patrol the entire Nansha Islands chain, deliver supplies, escort vessels, support coast guard patrol missions and stay atop all developments to ensure the nation’s safety.

     

  2. No change to commitment to protecting fishing rights


    The government remains fully committed to the safety of all ROC fishermen and vessels, including the Hai Chi Li and other ROC-registered fishing boats that set sail for Taiping Island on July 20. After the flotilla departed, the CGA tracked its movement using a vessel monitoring system provided by the Fisheries Agency. The CGA also dispatched the cutter Taoyuan, which worked with the MND to watch over the boats throughout their entire journey, staying near enough to provide assistance, ensure navigational safety, and guide them away from sensitive waters and into safe waterways.

    When the fishing boats arrived in the waters near Taiping Island on the night of July 25, the CGA’s Nansha Command responded to their request for assistance and helped them dock at the pier before providing medical attention, potable water, food and supplies. A rest area was also set up at the pier, highlighting Taiping’s practical role as a center for humanitarian assistance and supply base.

     

    Since Taiping Island is a restricted military area, civilians are legally required to obtain permission from the MND before arrival. If a fishing vessel is in urgent need of shelter or supplies, the coast guard officers stationed there will provide assistance in accordance with applicable regulations, but citizens are expected to abide by the rules governing restricted military areas.

     

V. Conclusion

 

The ROC government’s stance on the South China Sea arbitration is clear: The South China Sea Islands are ROC sovereign territory, and the ROC enjoys all rights over the South China Sea Islands and their relevant waters in accordance with international law and UNCLOS. This is the ROC’s firm and consistent position. The government will staunchly defend the country’s territory and sovereignty, and ensure that national interests are not jeopardized.

 

The ROC government will also strengthen protection of fisheries, vigorously safeguarding Taiwan’s fishing grounds in the waters of the South China Sea and ensuring that Taiwanese fishermen can operate safely. The ROC government urges all parties to settle South China Sea disputes peacefully through multilateral negotiations. The ROC is willing, through negotiations conducted on the basis of equality, to work with all concerned states to promote peace and stability in the South China Sea.