If there’s anything China and Taiwan can agree on, it’s that the contested scattered islands in the South China Sea are Chinese territory. But while China flexes its muscles to assert authority over the islands, making the maritime region into a geo-strategic hotspot, Taiwan has no such ambitions.
When the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in July 2016 in favor of the Philippines against China’s claims, the Office of Taiwan’s president rejected the verdict in terms similar to Beijing.
The court found that China has no “historical right” based on its so-called nine-dash line map that encompasses nearly 90% of the South China Sea, including most of the maritime region’s islands.
China responded by saying it would not abide by the ruling, which it hasn’t judging by its recent moves to militarize the various features it claims in the area.
Taiwan, officially the Republic of China (ROC), like the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on the mainland, lays claim to the same islands, which are also in whole or part claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
Taiwan actually controls the largest natural land mass in the contested Spratly Islands, the 0.5 square kilometer Taiping Island, also known as Itu Aba, as well as the nearby unoccupied Zhongzhou Reef.
Among the facilities on Itu Aba are a 1,200-meter airstrip which caters to C-130 transport planes and smaller aircraft from Taiwan’s air force.
There is also a hospital, meteorological station, a shelter for fishermen, satellite telecommunications facilities, radar surveillance equipment, and a temple dedicated to Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy in Mahayana Buddhism.
Chinese fishermen are known in ancient times to have visited the island — the only actual island in the Spratlys, as many would argue the others are little more than rocks, shoals and reefs. The island’s various histories vary as much as today’s claims.
Some have argued that France recognized the Spratlys as well as the Paracel Islands to the north as sovereign Chinese territory after the 1884-1885 Sino-French war. That is disputed by some historians, who argue that the maritime boundary applied only to Tonkin, today’s northern Vietnam.
In 1932, France did claim both island groups and the following year included them in French Indochina, which led to protests from a then weak China and a powerful Japan. But France did little to develop the islands beyond building a couple of weather stations.
In 1938, during World War II, Japan took the islands from France and established a garrison as well as a submarine base on Itu Aba. Administratively, the island fell under Taiwan, then a Japanese territory.
After the end of World War II, Taiwan was reunited with China and the islands in the South China Sea became part of southern Guangdong province. Chinese warships were dispatched to Itu Aba in 1946, and since then it has been controlled by the Republic of China.
In 1947, China’s leader at the time, Chiang Kai-shek, drew a U-shaped “eleven-dash line” map around the territory in the South China Sea that he claimed was all Chinese territory.
The problem with that claim, of course, is that since the communist victory in 1949 the republic he led has presided over only the island of Taiwan and a few small islets off the coast of Fujian, while the mainland became the People’s Republic of China.
Itu Aba has remained firmly under control of the government in Taiwan for decades, while the other countries now claiming the Spratlys paid little attention to the islands in the South China Sea before the 1970s.
The Philippines was the first to take action in laying claims. It sent troops to the islands in 1970 and 1971 and by 1975 occupied at least six of the islands, the largest being Pagasa, or Thitu, island, where a runway was built and soldiers were stationed.
The regional race to claim islands intensified in the 1980s, with Vietnam taking possession of 20 features based on earlier French colonial claims. In the early 1980s Malaysia took five reefs, while Brunei laid claim to but did not occupy a chunk of the disputed sea after gaining independence from Britain in 1984.
China sent navy ships to some of the islands for the first time in 1977, but did not begin to occupy any of them until 1987. China bases its claims on “historical rights” because its fishermen and seafarers are said to have visited them in the past.
When Qiao Shi, then chairman of China’s Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress visited Indonesia in 1993, he said: “There was no other claim to sovereignty over the Spratlys before. It’s only recently that some countries have different thoughts about sovereignty over the islands.”
In other words, China believed then that it was other regional claimants who started snatching up islands in the 1970s at China’s expense — and Taiwan agrees with that assessment.
While Taiwan seems content with controlling Itu Aba and has not aroused much complaint from other claimants, China’s reclamation of land, construction of air fields and establishment of military bases in the maritime area has turned it into a potential conflict zone, where great powers like the United States are concerned about freedom of navigation in the area.
China may have removed two dashes from Chiang Kai-shek’s original 11-dash map in the Gulf of Tonkin, making its claims now demarcated by a nine-dash line, but those claims are also based on rather dubious interpretations of historical records.
Beijing now frequently references Zheng He, the legendary 15th century Muslim eunuch who led seven large-scale voyages from China to South and Southeast Asia, the Arabian peninsula and the east coast of Africa. Beijing now claims that his voyage past the Spratly Islands means those islands historically belong to China.
But the detailed accounts and maps compiled by his aide Ma Huan list more than 700 place names along their voyages in those parts of the world while the Spratlys are hardly mentioned.
The reason is simple: apart from Itu Aba, the Spratlys are not islands but treacherous shoals and underwater reefs which the ancient navies sailed around to avoid being shipwrecked. Zheng He’s massive wooden junks would have been at particular risk.
Taiwan may have a less propaganda-driven and politically motivated approach to its historical accounts, but its President’s Office nonetheless reiterated its “stance that it holds sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and their surrounding waters” in response to the The Hague tribunal decision against China’s wide-reaching claims.
Not surprisingly, China’s state media at the time praised Taiwan’s stance. But the question still remains which China the Spratlys should belong to — the PRC on the mainland or the ROC on Taiwan — and for how much longer Taipei will maintain the historical notion of being part of a country from which it was separated from in 1949.
That’s very simple, when Taiwan is reunited with China, what ROC claimed/occupied will be inherited by PROC! And it would have workd the same way if PROC were defeated the ROC would inherite PROC but what is the chance of that!
The writer needs to find out the meaning of arbitration. All parties in a dispute must agree on the arbitration before it’s binding. In this case, China never agreed and hence this so called one sided arbitration is invalid.
Paid journalist. Probably a backpacker type who never does his homework.
George Bush and co sentenced crime against humanity in Iraq war, was not accepted by American
Bertil Lintner. I agree with your article in its broad factual perspective except for your gross omission to explain that the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague is not under the aegis of the United Nations like the International Court of Justice is, and that it is a private tribunal that requires the mutual assent of both parties to any arbitration, and that it has no jurisdiction over territorial disputes that exist or existed before the PCA which was formed to deal with UNLOS matters. This is a pre-existing territorial issue and not an UNLOS issue! And it is obvious from the timeline that you yourself presented.
And you also fail to mention that the Chiang Kai Shek Kuomintang Chinese Government in fact lodged a claim they called the 11 dashes line over the entire South China Sea with the United Nations at the end of 1946! Why ‘dashes’? That is Chinese ‘mindset’ or ‘imagination’ for you – to indicate the ‘waves’ of the ocean. So what if the Western mind finds that funny!
But nonetheless you are quite right about the Philippines being the culprit by starting to claim islands back in the early 1970s and then like a mass hysteria the other contiguous states started joining in the melee!
China is simply saying that these ex-colonies of foreign powers have no right to make any claim based on borders unilaterally drawn up without China’s consent, just like its view about the MacMahon Line being the India-China border.
But sorry, I am digressing from your main point – yes both the Communist Party Government of China and the Democratic Governments of Taiwan Province of China agree to full territorial claim over the South China Sea.
So, you see the irony of the US going on the onslaught against Mainland China when its ally Taiwan is on the same side as the Mainland on this issue.
Don’t you see that it’s sea grab by the USA, when it sees that China started to claim it back?
Comrade, ignore this western stooge. China has every right to the SCS, Tibet, E Turkmenistan and Taiwan, they were all part of the Dong (small) Empire.
Just as the Greeks have a right to Pakistan (Alexander the Great), Norwegians to part of Canada and the Blitish to 1/6th of the world, including the USA.
Might is right comrade.
1) "When the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in July 2016 in favor of the Philippines against China’s claims,…"
The PCA was not a legitimate legal entity. The UN does not recognise it nor support it. It was setup in the aftermath of european maritime conquests to settle territorial disputes among themselves. The PCA proceedings against china was not initiated by the phillippines. It was done by the japs with the empire’s backing. Shunji Yanai, the ex-jap ambassador to the empire and president of ITLOS at the time initiated the whole thing. The japs event paid the USD 30 million fee to the washington lawyers. So, go ahead and enjoy this dog and pony show in this circus of clowns all you want.
2) " The court found that China has no “historical right”…"
The jap and empire appointed judges made a mockery of the UNCLOS and other international laws, when it passed down mickey mouse judgements like this bcos UNCLOS has no jurisdiction over territorial claims. UNCLOS is only about maritime exclusive economic rights – and exclusive economic rights are based on land formations. There is a proper forum for all the claimants to press their claims over the SCS territory – the International Court of Justice which is a UN body and wholely supported by the UN. Until now, none of the claimants have dared to present their case before the ICJ. WHY? Let me hazard a guess. BECAUSE THEY HAVE NO PROOFS THAT THEIR CLAIMS ARE LEGITIMATE.
3) " In 1947, China’s leader at the time, Chiang Kai-shek, drew a U-shaped “eleven-dash line” map around the territory in the South China Sea that he claimed was all Chinese territory."
Chiang did so based on the Cairo Declaration, Potsdam Proclaimation, the Jap Surrender Article and most all, he had the backing of the empire and its navy at the time to lay his claim. Between 1945 to 1947 it was empire warships that ferried Chiang’s troops to reoccupy the Paracels and Spartly islands.
4) " The reason is simple: apart from Itu Aba, the Spratlys are not islands but treacherous shoals and underwater reefs which the ancient navies sailed around to avoid being shipwrecked "
Right on. That could be the reason why none of the present claimants lay claims to these "shoals and underwater reefs" since ancient times. Until…until…until… the UN’s late 1960’s survey of the SCS seabed and came up with the conclusion that it may contain trillions of barrels of oil and gas. That was when the mad scramble for these "shoals and underwater reefs" began. As the author rightly said (which is the only item he is honest about in this whole article) it was the phillippines which started to lay claims first to Taiping island.
This was followed by the treacherous Dongs who did the same despite its former PM Pham Van Dong disavowing all claims to the paracels and spratlys in a diplomatic note to china’s PM Zhou Enlai immediately after the french defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. And then came the malaysian and brunei claims. CHina was the last to assert its claims and was also the last to setup military facilitites on these islands.
5) " China may have removed two dashes from Chiang Kai-shek’s original 11-dash map in the Gulf of Tonkin, making its claims now demarcated by a nine-dash line, but those claims are also based on rather dubious interpretations of historical records."
I challenge the author to gather all the other claimants’ evidence and challenge china at the ICJ on these "dubious interpretations of historical records". I will be waiting…
6) " But the detailed accounts and maps compiled by his aide Ma Huan list more than 700 place names along their voyages in those parts of the world while the Spratlys are hardly mentioned."
Very smart of the author to only refer to Ma Huan’s list. Ooops, I think he deliberately ignored the documentation and maps drawn during china’s earlier seafaring days in the Han, Song and Tang dynasties.
Wait I forgot the Philippines also did not agree to being masssacred by US and being made a colony
Actually, it was the Arbitrary Tribunal instituted under UNCLOS that issued the verdict in the China vs Philippines case. The PCA merely acted as the Registry and provided the venue for the hearing. So many people, including journalists, seem to have not grasped this fact.
KS Chin So, by your reasoning, it is ok for China to invade other country’s territory nowadays because the US did it in the past?
I’ve read in other articles that the U.S. actually paid the entire $25 million bill for that "ruling." I’ve never read that the Philippines paid the bill.
These comments are bad, and this article is bad. Khalas.
If these international courts were actually worth a damn. A long line of US presidents would of already been hauled and jailed for crimes against humanity for all the wars it started.
Sadly they are nothing but a farce.
DPP does not agree with China on the South China Sea. DPP considers Taiwan, Ryukyu, and South China Sea islets belong to Japan, their living god and parents. If DPP had carried the duties of ROC by expelling illegal squatters from Vietnam and the Philippines in the Ryukyu islands and islets in the South China Sea, there won’t be any disputes in the South China Sea today.
Ivor Large, that is stupid logic, British law applies to Britain only, who in the world recognizes their laws extend beyond their border? It seems you have a mindset belonging to the past, stalled in the old days of colonialism and constrained by the zero-sum cold war mentality.
Anyhow the Asians think the white aliens in Australia should be kicked out of Australia and return Australia to it rightful owner of Asian. This is consensus of Asians should be made into law by the council of the region of SCS.
Ivor Large, English invaded Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Falkland Island, Australia, USA, Canada, Ryukyu Kingdom, Garcia Diego … It is a big project that UN members need to undertake to restore the ownership of those lands back to their rightful owners.
Ivor Large, USA has never been in FIFA cup. USA is a superpower? It must be a joke.
Even after 50 years in the FIFA, Australia has always been kicked out at the first round in a few times they are lucky enough to steal a spot from the other Asian members. What an embarrassment. China will kick Australia out of Asian quota if it has been in FIFA as long as the Aussie in the game, just like all other Olympics games, Australia is nowhere to been seen, only China is winning all the medals for the Asians.
Aussie women are traveling all over the world, they are desperately to avoid the bad genes from their exile criminal males back home.
Ivor Large, There are many injustice, shenanigans and discords planted around the world by the Anglo. Malaysian revolution to establish a just and fair society in its infancy was crashed by the evil Anglo imperialist (Aussie was one of them). That was one of the many crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by the Anglo since Industrial Revolution, it is an outstanding case need to be prosecuted by UN in due course.
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Joe Wong So you agree with me, Joe… restore rightful owners like Uighurs and Tibetans…. oh ps Scotlan unified with England under a Scottish king.
But I guess wumaos dont get taught history.
Joe Wong The Malays went along with it, and instituted the Bhumi policy, independent of the whites…. explain that, comrade
Joe Wong Chinese ladies are 10x more likely to marry a white than chinese males.
Explain that… small parts.
Try and criticise in China…..
So why to Taiwanese vote for them… maybe they dont want to be ruled by the CCP like you are.
Joe Wong B ut now there’s alot of Asian ‘aliens’ in Aus, as well as the overseas Chinee in Malaya, Indon, etc. Should they leave too ?
Comes down to a vote. But there again you Chinee dont know alot about erections !
But this is interesting…… CCP polution.
Vast swathes of China could be left uninhabitable towards the end of the century due to heatwaves scorching the region, according to new research.
As carbon emissions soar and farmland expands across the fertile North China Plain, this area could soon see the biggest climate change-induced loss of human life on Earth
The scientists behind the study warned that unless China – the world largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions – curbs its pollution there could be serious consequences for its own population.
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