ROC President Ma Ying-jeou spoke with journalists from local and foreign media outlets on the evening of March 23, following their return from a one-day trip to Taiping Island at the invitation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“Seeing is believing, and our goal in arranging the tour was to help you see that Taiping Island is indeed an island, not a rock,” President Ma told the journalists. Taiping is the largest naturally formed island in the Nansha (Spratly) Islands, which together with their surrounding waters are an inherent part of ROC territory and waters in the South China Sea.
As Taiping is an island as defined by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, in addition to 12 nautical miles of territorial waters, the Republic of China is entitled to claim a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone and a continental shelf, he pointed out.
The president’s remarks focused on the factual evidence for Taiping’s status as an island under UNCLOS, in relation to the arbitration brought by the Philippines against mainland China at the Permanent Court of Arbitration. President Ma used the occasion to formally invite, through the domestic and foreign media, Philippine representatives and tribunal judges to visit Taiping Island to see the conditions there for themselves.
The ROC experience on Taiping is a model for the South China Sea, the president stressed. “The goal of ROC management of Taiping Island is to transform it into an island for peace and rescue operations, as well as an ecologically friendly and low-carbon island,” he said.
“All our activities are in accordance with international norms and regulations, including UNCLOS, and will not raise tensions in the region, nor do they contradict the US appeal for three halts: to halt further land reclamation, construction of new facilities, or militarization on disputed features. We have no military purpose there—as early as 2000 we replaced our marines with Coast Guard personnel—have not engaged in land reclamation, and have not built new facilities, beyond renovating existing ones.”
President Ma also mentioned that the Chinese (Taiwan) Society of International Law has completed an amicus curiae brief on the legal status of Taiping Island rebutting the Philippines’ specious claims point by point, and sent it to the tribunal at The Hague.
The president cited historical records showing that Taiping Island has long sustained human habitation and economic life of its own. He noted the presence there of high-quality freshwater sources; fertile naturally formed soil; large numbers of trees making the island look like a “forest park on the sea”; wild coconut, papaya, and plantain; and a farm producing nearly 20 types of fruits and vegetables, in addition to chickens and goats, all showing that Taiping Island can sustain human habitation and economic life of its own, making the Philippine claims that Taiping does not qualify as an island under UNCLOS completely unfounded.