China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
January 28, 2016
Executive Summary: President Ma visited Taiping Island. He declared our sovereignty over the island. The pressure he was forced to endure far exceeded any experienced by Chen Shui-bian. Taiwan is under seige, both from within and without. The public on Taiwan must forsake partisan prejudices. President Ma's visit to Taiping Island deserves high praise. It had nothing to do with "pandering to [Mainland] China". It had nothing to do with "selling out Taiwan". It has only to do with defending the dignity and sovereignty of the Republic of China, and maintaining cross-Strait peace.
Full Text Below:
President Ma has finally traveled to Taiping Island and declared our sovereignty over the island. The need to defend our territorial sovereignty in the South China Sea is self-evident. But the political pressure is relentless. Vietnam has lodged a protest. The American Institute in Taiwan, as well as Evan Medeiros, former White House National Security Council Senior Director for Asian Affairs, have both expressed their disappointment to President Ma. President elect Tsai Ing-wen refused to express solidarity between the ruling and opposition parties on Taiwan by sending someone to accompany President Ma.
When a head of state travels about on his own nation's territory, he should not have to endure foreign meddling. Yet last year, when President Ma planned to visit Taiping Island, Washington interfered and forced President Ma to cancel his visit. Washington said that the timing was too sensitive, and that the visit would send the wrong message, and would not contribute to the peaceful settlement of South China Sea disputes.
The South China Sea dispute is complicated. Vietnam, the Philippines, and other countries have claimed sovereignty over the region. As a result, the Mainland has intensified its construction projects on South China Sea islands and reefs. The United States, motivated by strategic considerations, has also returned to Asia. This has increased the militarization of the South China Sea. Ironically, Taiwan is noticeably absent from the picture. Military confrontation between Washington and Beijing has recently intensified. Tensions have risen. The United States is strong arming neighboring countries to join its military alliance. The Philippines has already chosen sides. Japan may join as well. Even Vietnam, the Mainland's ideological ally, is flirting with the idea. Its position however, remains ambiguous. Clearly Vietnam hopes the US will counter the Mainland. Taipei is under increasing pressure to choose sides.
Taipei finds itself caught between major powers. Its situation is awkward. First. Taiping Island belongs to the Republic of China. According to the ROC Constitution, the South China Sea is an integral part of its traditional territory. Second. The United States is Taiwan's chief guarantor of security. Taipei cannot afford discord with Washington. Also, given improvements in cross-Strait relations, Taipei cannot afford confrontation with Beijing either, particularly on the South China Sea dispute. Cross-Strait cooperation on the dispute may not exist. But our claims overlap. The Ma government has an implicit understanding with the Mainland authorities. Taipei and Beijing have an implicit strategy of mutual support, but one without clear form.
Such is Taipei's dilemma in the South China Sea. We have territorial sovereignty. But Washington objects. Beijing is aggressively defending its territorial sovereignty. Taipei must defend its territorial sovereignty as well, but cannot afford to offend either Washington or Beijing. Otherwise it will find itself in dire straits. Taipei is being marginalized in the South China Sea dispute. If this marginalization persists, its voice in the Taiping Island and even South China Sea dispute will be drowned out and supplanted by others. This is highly detrimental to our security and sovereignty. Given the tense international environment, President Ma's visit to Taiping Island, and defense of our territorial sovereignty was even more critical, and deserves high praise.
In fact, Taiping Island poses an increasingly obvious risk. Last year, the Philippines submitted 15 claims to the Permanent Court of Arbitration of the United Nations. One claim alleged that Taiping Island is a reef, not an island. Last year, this claim was recognized by the tribunal. According to the ruling, Taiping Island is a reef, based on paragraph 3, Article 121 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Allegedly it cannot sustain human habitation or economic activity, therefore cannot have an exclusive economic zone (EEZ). This means that Taipei will lose the 200 nautical mile EEZ surrounding the island, and is also likely to lose sovereignty over the territory within the 11 dotted line.
In response, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a rare statement of protest. President Ma visited Taiping Island, determined to reaffirm our sovereignty. Last year President Ma posted a comment on Facebook. He showed a box lunch containing vegetables grown on Taiping Island. He showed that the island not only had fresh water, it could support the cultivation of fruits and vegetables, and even human life, and was in full compliance with the provisions of UNCLOS.
But publicity alone is insufficient. In the South China Sea dispute, real power is the final arbiter. In this regard, Taipei can rely only on its own military hardware. It cannot expect good faith from neighboring countries or mediation from Washington. The most chilling aspect of this however, is cynical attacks from within Taiwan, by parties oblivious to Taiwan's quandary. Perhaps the DPP believes that only strategic intervention by the United States can ensure our security. Perhaps it thinks the South China Sea dispute is none of Taiwan's concern. If so, it is monumentally mistaken.
Consider cross-Strait relations. The new government must take the Taiping Island dispute and South China Sea dispute seriously. Tsai Ing-wen may not understand why the Mainland is able to trust the KMT. It is not merely because the KMT constantly reaffirms 1992 Consensus. Another reason is that President Ma has never relinquished ROC claims over territory within the 11 dotted line. This provides an important legal foundation for PRC claims over territory within the nine dotted line. President Ma has never coordinated directly with the Mainland. But he has provided the Mainland with strategic support on another level. If Tsai fails to understand this, and refuses to support President Ma's difficult balancing act, she will suffer the consequences of her own ignorance.
President Ma visited Taiping Island. He declared our sovereignty over the island. The pressure he was forced to endure far exceeded any experienced by Chen Shui-bian. Taiwan is under seige, both from within and without. The public on Taiwan must forsake partisan prejudices. President Ma's visit to Taiping Island deserves high praise. It had nothing to do with "pandering to [Mainland] China". It had nothing to do with "selling out Taiwan". It has only to do with defending the dignity and sovereignty of the Republic of China, and maintaining cross-Strait peace.
對捍衛南海主權的正面價值不言而喻，但承受的壓力也接踵而至。 越南提出抗議， 美國在台協會及前白宮國安會亞洲事務資深主任麥艾文都對馬總統表 示失望，準總統蔡英文也拒絕派人隨行，共同表達台灣朝野的立場。
但去年馬總統規畫太平島之行時，就遭到美國大力阻撓， 迫使馬總統未能成行。美國反對的理由是「敏感時刻釋放錯誤訊息、 對南海紛爭的和平解決沒有貢獻」。
大陸因而加緊建設南海島礁，美國也在重返亞洲戰略指導下， 擴大在南海區域的軍事動能， 台灣在其中反而是最沒有存在感的一員。 近來隨著美中兩強權軍事抗衡增溫，緊張局勢不斷升高， 美國拉攏周邊國家加入同盟力度也不斷加大， 不僅菲律賓完全選邊站，日本也有擴大參與之勢， 甚至中國大陸意識形態盟友越南也跟美國眉來眼去，態度曖昧。 顯然，越南正引入美國勢力來制衡大陸， 戰略大局逼迫台灣面臨愈來愈緊迫的選邊壓力。
太平島主權屬於中華民國，依據《憲法》 南海屬於我國傳統疆界範圍，二方面美國是台灣安全最大戰略保證， 台灣承受不起跟美國齟齬的代價，而隨著兩岸關係的改善， 台灣也不想輕易跟大陸對抗，更何況在南海問題上， 兩岸雖然沒有合作，但主張重疊， 某種程度上馬政府跟大陸方面存在著高度默契， 在實質上隱含著戰略的互相支援， 只是沒有明確表態和形諸於外的行動而已。
大陸也以積極行動維護主權， 台灣既要維護主權卻不能得罪任何一方， 否則都會讓自己陷入緊張境地。但問題在於， 如果台灣繼續在南海爭議中被邊緣化， 那麼未來台灣在太平島的主權維護乃至整個南海議題的話語權， 都將漸漸被他國所排擠， 這無疑對台灣的安全和主權尊嚴都極為不利。在緊張的國際環境下， 馬總統赴太平島為主權發聲，更顯彌足珍貴，應該給予掌聲。
去年菲律賓向聯合國常設仲裁法庭提交15項訴求， 其中包括裁定太平島只是礁岩而不是島嶼， 去年底這一訴求得到仲裁法庭的認可。按照這一裁定， 太平島將被認定為礁岩，而根據《聯合國海洋法公約》第121條第 三款的規定，不能維持人類居住或其本身的經濟活動的礁岩， 不應有專屬經濟區，這就意味著台灣將失去太平島周邊200浬的專 屬經濟區，更可能進一步失去十一段線的海洋主權。
馬總統也決心親赴太平島宣示主權。 去年馬總統還在臉書上秀出來自太平島的蔬菜便當， 宣示島上不僅可以有淡水，而且可以種植蔬菜水果， 可以進行充分的人類活動，完全符合海洋法公約的規定。
在南海爭端中最仰賴的還是實力原則， 台灣在這方面也只能依靠自己加強軍備， 無法奢望周邊國家的善意和美國的調停。令人寒心的是， 台灣內部仍然充滿冷嘲熱諷， 卻絲毫不考慮台灣身處夾縫中的困難處境。或許民進黨認為， 只需要配合美國的戰略行動就可以維護自身的安全， 至於南海問題本就不是台灣的當務之急，這無疑是大錯特錯。
蔡英文或許無法理解，為何大陸可以跟國民黨累積互信， 這並非國民黨不斷宣示九二共識那麼簡單，長期以來， 馬總統雖然沒配合大陸的南海行動， 但也從未棄守大陸九段線主張的最重要依據── 中華民國的十一段線主張，這在另一個層面是對大陸的戰略支援。 如果蔡英文不能理解其中的奧妙，而對馬總統的平衡舉動不加借鑑， 恐怕未來要承受這種無知的苦果。