Troops on sea patrol urged to defend Taiwan's interest

President Tsai about to board the Taiwanese navy warship, Kang Ding, at the naval base in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan, yesterday before it set sail for Taiping Island in the South China Sea.
President Tsai about to board the Taiwanese navy warship, Kang Ding, at the naval base in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan, yesterday before it set sail for Taiping Island in the South China Sea.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen urged troops heading to the South China Sea for a patrol mission to "defend Taiwan's national interests", a day after a United Nations-backed Arbitral Tribunal ruled that the Taiwan-controlled Taiping Island has no extended maritime zone.

In a thinly veiled rebuke of the ruling, she said yesterday that it "severely jeopardises" Taiwan's sovereignty over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea and the surrounding waters. Taiwan lays claim to several island groups in the sea.

The Taiwanese government had on Tuesday said it rejected the tribunal's conclusion, declaring that it is not legally binding.

The tribunal, ruling on a case brought by the Philippines against China's expansive claims in the South China Sea, had found that none of the land forms in the Spratly archipelago, of which Taiping is a part, is an island capable of supporting human and economic life and, thus, none is entitled to a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

 

This is a blow to Taiwan, which has occupied the island since the 1950s and has 200 Coast Guard personnel and researchers living on it. Taiping, also known as Itu Aba, is now entitled to only a 12-nautical-mile territorial sea.

Speaking onboard a frigate before it set sail from the southern city of Kaohsiung, Ms Tsai pointed out that the patrol mission was brought forward by a day and is significant because it will "demonstrate our determination to protect Taiwan's national interests".

At the same time, she struck a conciliatory tone, reiterating that Taiwan advocates that South China Sea disputes be resolved peacefully through multilateral negotiations, and Taiwan is willing to pursue stability in the region through dialogue based on equality.

China expert Bonnie Glaser of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington said it might not be in Taiwan's best interest to reject the ruling. "It will be more beneficial to be seen as a responsible and law-abiding citizen that can play a useful role in the global community," she added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2016, with the headline 'Troops on sea patrol urged to defend Taiwan's interest'. Print Edition | Subscribe