South China Sea

Taiwanese head to Spratlys land mass to reaffirm claims

Taiwanese fishermen holding flags and signs reading "Protect fishing rights, safeguard sovereignty" before heading to Taiping in the Spratlys archipelago. Lawmakers from the ruling DPP and opposition KMT also flew there to visit facilities that show
Taiwanese fishermen holding flags and signs reading "Protect fishing rights, safeguard sovereignty" before heading to Taiping in the Spratlys archipelago. Lawmakers from the ruling DPP and opposition KMT also flew there to visit facilities that show it is self-sufficient, and not a rock.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Move comes after arbitration tribunal rules Taiping is 'rock', does not merit EEZ

TAIPEI • Taiwanese lawmakers and fishermen headed to a land mass in the disputed South China Sea yesterday to protest against an international tribunal ruling which undermined Taipei's claims there.

Eight lawmakers from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and opposition Kuomintang (KMT) boarded a military plane to the Taiwan-controlled Taiping in the Spratlys archipelago.

Five fishing boats decorated with Taiwanese flags and banners reading "Protect fishing rights, safeguard sovereignty" also set sail to Taiping from southern Pingtung county to protest against the perceived threat to fishermen's livelihoods. The fishermen waved to onlookers, who shouted their support and set off firecrackers as their boats departed. Those boats will arrive in five to six days' time.

The protests come after an international tribunal in the Hague ruled last week that China has no historic rights to its claimed "nine-dash line" in the South China Sea and had violated the Philippines' sovereign rights in Manila's exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Crucially for Taiwan, it also ruled that Taiping, the largest land mass in the Spratlys chain, was legally a "rock" and not entitled to its own EEZ, undermining Taiwanese claims to waters surrounding it.

Taiwan last week sent a warship to the South China Sea "to defend maritime territory", with President Tsai Ing-wen rallying troops on the ship's deck a day after the ruling.

"The ruling is absolutely unacceptable. It is necessary for us to visit Taiping at this time to show the international community that it is an island, not a rock," said KMT lawmaker Johnny Chiang, who was part of the protest visit.

The lawmakers watched a display of combat skills by the coast guard stationed on Taiping as well as visiting facilities that show the "island" is self-sufficient. They are due to return next Wednesday.

When the fishermen arrive in Taiping, they will receive drinking water from the land mass in a bid to prove it is more than just a rock and is fit for human habitation, a spokesman for the group said.

Taiwan last year inaugurated a solar-powered lighthouse, an expanded airstrip and a pier as part of efforts to strengthen defence capabilities on Taiping.

There is also a farm, water well, hospital and temple there.

IT'S AN ISLAND

It is necessary for us to visit Taiping at this time to show the international community that it is an island, not a rock.

KMT LAWMAKER JOHNNY CHIANG, on Taiwan's stance on Taiping.

Taiping's land area is 0.51 sq km and most of its inhabitants work for the coast guard, which has about 160 staff there. Each year, about 200 fishing boats operate in the waters near Taiping.

The Spratlys are also claimed in part or whole by China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

Taiwan's government rejected the arbitration court's ruling, saying it "severely jeopardised" Taiwan's rights.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2016, with the headline 'Taiwanese head to Spratlys land mass to reaffirm claims '. Print Edition | Subscribe