President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan personally sent off a naval warship Wednesday morning to patrol Taiping Island, a Taiwanese territory in the South China Sea that Taipei fears they could lose as a result of Tuesday’s verdict rejecting China’s claims to most of the South China Sea.
“The South China arbitration ruling, especially in the part about Taiping Island, has seriously hurt our rights to the South China Sea islands and their relevant waters,” Tsai said in a statement aboard the ship, wishing them well on their mission to “defend Taiwan’s territory.” She added, “Your patrol mission to the South China Sea, which is being conducted ahead of schedule, is highly significant in view of the new development.”
The Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague announced its verdict Tuesday in the case Philippines vs. China, in which Manila challenged Beijing’s “nine-dash line” map claiming most of the South China Sea, including the sovereign territory of Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines. China argued that artificial islands built near the Spratly and Paracel Island chain and the Scarborough Shoal were sovereign Chinese territory, a claim rejected by the court. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), artificial islands that cannot support permanent populations do not give the nation that built them sovereignty over the surrounding water.
Taiwanese officials object to this conclusion, which rejects the acceptance of Taiping as Taiwanese land surrounded by a Taiwanese exclusive economic zone. Taiwanese officials tried to interject themselves as a relevant party to the case in May, but the court rejected the petition.
“We will never accept it (the tribunal’s ruling). … It is not legally binding,” Taiwanese presidential office spokesman Alex Huang said Tuesday. “We will definitely defend our territorial sovereignty and not allow our … interests be harmed.” He added a complaint that The Hague “never sought out advice” and rejected attempts by the Taiwanese government to participate in the ruling.
Taiwan’s position in the South China Sea dispute is more precarious than the other parties involved because China does not recognize it as a country. Instead, Beijing usurps all Taiwanese claims as its own. Thus, it is vocally supporting Taiwan’s moves to assert its sovereignty over Taiping Island, claiming that it is doing so on behalf of Beijing, not Taipei. The government of Tsai Ing-wen has been clear that its claims to Taiping are not in China’s name, and any attempts by Beijing to usurp Taiwanese territory in the form of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the region will be rejected.
Tsai’s rejection of China’s claims to Taiwanese territory are a departure from the policy of her predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou, who visited Taiping to assert Taiwan’s sovereignty, leading to Beijing’s praising his move as an intended show of support for China. Ma invited then-President-elect Tsai to accompany him, but she refused.
China is, nonetheless, praising Tsai’s decision to send a warship to the region. “We are willing to join other countries in promoting peace and stability in the South China Sea under a [sic] equal footing,” China’s Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said in support of Taiwan’s claims Tuesday, according to the South China Morning Post.