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South China Sea Interests: Both Sides of the Strait are One

icon2014/06/04
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 A Commentary

 
South China Sea Interests: Both Sides of the Strait are One 
 
Michael Gau
 
Professor at the Institute of the Law of the Sea at National Taiwan Ocean University
 
Source: China Times
 
June 4, 2014
 
The Interior Ministry of the Republic of China (ROC), in 1935, ordered the Committee on the Review of Hydrographic and Land Maps to chart every island of China in the South China Sea.  The committee also made a bilingual geographical glossary of China’s islands in the South China Sea, claiming the integrity of sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea.  After WWII, the ROC government dispatched its navy to retake every island in the South China Sea which the Japanese had occupied during the war.  In October 1947, the Department of National Territory under the Interior Ministry issued a new bilingual geographical glossary of China’s islands in the South China Sea and mapped China’s islands in the South China Sea in 1948.   The famous U-shaped line (dubbed 11-dash line) appeared for the first time.  The ROC government thus reiterated sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea.
 
In 1949, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) established a new regime, not a new state.  The CCP regime maintained the sovereignty claims of the ROC government in the South China Sea.  However, the ROC government did not give up its sovereignty claims in the South China Sea.  The ROC Executive Yuan reiterated sovereignty over four major island groups in the South China Sea by means of the “Guidelines of Policy in the South China Sea,” and declared that the U-shaped line was the historical outer boundary of the ROC’s territorial waters.  In 2005, the ROC Interior Ministry declared that the “Guidelines of Policy in the South China Sea” ceased to function.   The ROC Executive Yuan issued a declaration of a baseline of the ROC’s territorial waters and contiguous zone, calling the U-shaped line in the South China Sea as our traditional U-shaped line and the boundary line of the ROC’s existing territory.  The ROC’s stance in the South China Sea remained unchanged.
 
Surrounding countries in the South China Sea, including the Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia, questioned the ROC’s sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and over waters in the area.  The three countries denied that the ROC government could represent China, and only engaged in dialogues with Beijing.   Last year, the Philippines proposed forcible arbitration in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).   Beijing represented China and claimed sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and the waters in the area. The ROC government had previously made the same claims and continues to do so even now.  If Beijing should lose the arbitration, the ROC’s claims in the South China Sea would also become null and void.  In the end of March this year, the Philippines formally submitted a request for arbitration and denied that the structures built by Beijing on the reefs in the South China Sea gave Beijing the right to claim an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf (CS). Taiping Island was also included in the Philippines’s arbitration request.  If Beijing should lose the arbitration, how could the ROC government declare an EEZ and CS on the basis of Taiping Island?   The US government publicly opposed one state on either side of the Taiwan Strait.  According to the ROC Constitution and Statute Governing Relations between People across the Taiwan Strait, both sides of the Strait belong to the ROC, including the Taiwan area and the Mainland area.  Both sides of the Strait claimed the same territory and waters in the South China Sea.  Based on the existing ROC Constitution, it is difficult for the two sides of the Strait to resolve the conflict of interests in the South China Sea.  If a tenant’s house situated next door was set on fire, how could the landlord not be affected?  As an ROC national without the capacity of a civil servant, writing an academic thesis to maintain our country’s rights in international law in the South China Sea which attracted attention from the international community, I suddenly became in the eyes of some an enemy of the state for insisting on the same position as Beijing.   The ROC government has the constitutional responsibility to maintain our sovereignty over ROC territory, so we must take a stand.  How can Taiwan be separated from the Mainland?  Politicians in Taiwan who always support the US position should not forget that the US State Department issued an article titled, “A Strong and Moderate Taiwan,” in 2007, stating that Taiwan was not a sovereign state and expressing opposition to Taiwan making any moves to change the status quo.  This article is still posted on the US State Department’s website.  
 

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