20 July 2016
In an attempt to protest the ruling issued in the Hague last week on the South China Sea arbitration, eight lawmakers from Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party and the opposition Kuomintang boarded a military plane to Itu Aba island in the Spratly archipelago. At the same time, five fishing boats from southern Pingtung county also set sail to the only Taiwan-controlled island. The boats are decorated with Taiwanese flags and banners reading “Protect fishing rights, safeguard sovereignty”
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 the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague issue the ruling 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.
Crucially for Taiwan it also ruled that Itu Aba, the largest island in the Spratlys chain, was legally a “rock” and not entitled to its own exclusive economic zone, undermining Taiwanese claims to waters surrounding the island.
A day after the ruling, Taiwan sent a warship to the South China Sea “to defend maritime territory”, with President Tsai Ing-wen rallying troops on the frigate’s deck.
“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, using Chinese name for Itu Aba.
The lawmakers watched a display of combat skills by the coastguard stationed on Itu Aba as well as visiting facilities that show the island is self-sufficient. They are due to return Wednesday afternoon.
When the fishermen arrive in Itu Aba they will receive drinking water from the island 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’s coast guard will monitor the fishing boats but not follow them to Itu Aba island, the agency’s spokesman, Shih Yi-che, said. The crews have also been briefed on maritime safety as Itu Aba is about 2,000 kilometers southeast from Taiwan. Once the boats reach Itu Aba, Shih said, they will be safe because of coast guard presence on the island.
“We will be looking after the fishing boats to know their status,” Shih said. “We won’t send a patrol ship as support. But we respect what they’re doing.”
Taiwan has built up Itu Aba with an airstrip, solar-powered lighthouse, humanitarian rescue center, and a pier as part of its efforts to strengthen defense capabilities on the island. There is also a farm, water well, hospital and temple on the island.
The island is 0.51 sq km and most of its inhabitants work for the coastguard, which has about 160 staff there.
Contributed by Hoa B. Tran.
Militarization and Construction in the South China Sea: https://seasresearch.wordpress.com/category/events-and-analyses/militarization-and-construction-in-the-south-china-sea/
Facts on the Ground and on the Waters: https://seasresearch.wordpress.com/category/south-china-sea-facts-on-the-ground-and-on-the-waters/