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Ma reiterates Taiping Island is an 'island,' not a 'rock'

ROC Central News Agency

2016/01/28 21:45:13

Taipei, Jan. 28 (CNA) President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) on Thursday reiterated that Taiping Island in the disputed South China Sea is an 'island,' not a 'rock', as he sought to solidify Taiwan's sovereignty claim over the island, after he visited it earlier in the day.

Ma's description about Taiping Island came after the Philippines initiated a case against Beijing at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, saying Taiping Island and other islands China claims are only rocks with no fresh water, no arable soil, and are unfit for human habitation so that no sovereignty claim can be made in territorial waters beyond 12 nautical miles of them.

Earlier in the day, Ma said in a statement that the Philippines' description of Taiping Island is 'totally wrong' and has no scientific or factual basis.

He pointed out that Taiping Island can support human habitation because it has high quality fresh ground water, as well as arable soil, not to mention plant life and animals.

Ma's reiteration about Taiping Island was made in a news conference after he returned from the island.

Several countries, including Taiwan, China, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam claim all or parts of the islands located in South China Sea.

Taiping Island, which lies 1,600 kilometers south of Taiwan, is the largest natural island in the Spratly islands chain in the disputed sea. Taiwan has controlled it since 1946.

In the news conference, Ma said that he had previously planned to visit Taiping Island last year to propose a road map for his South China Sea Peace Initiative, but for some reason he did not make it.

Also on Thursday, Ma proposed the South China Sea Peace Initiative Roadmap, in which he called on all parties concerned to exercise self-restraint, set aside their territorial disputes, and settle disagreements through peaceful means and negotiations.

Ma said that Taiping Island should be transformed into an island for peace and disaster-rescuing purposes, an island for ecology development and an island for carbon emission reductions.

In the news conference, a video was played, showing Ma paid tribute to the coastguard personnel dispatched by Taiwan. The president said that paying such tribute to the coastguard officers stationed there ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday was one of the purposes of his visit.

Mark C. Toner, Deputy Spokesperson, U.S. Department of State said earlier in the week that Washington was disappointed by Ma's then planned visit to Taiping Island. The American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), the de-facto embassy in Taiwan, said that Ma's move would not help resolve disputes in the region.

But Ma on Thursday said that his trip was not provocative at all, and he simply used it as an opportunity to convey his peace initiative.

'I do not think that my visit will raise any political tensions in the region,' the president said.

Ma said that the U.S. State Department has praised the South China Sea Peace Initiative he proposed last year and voiced support for the proposal, which calls for all claimants to jointly explore and share resources in the region, while maintaining their sovereignty claims.

In addition to a rebuttal to the Philippines' claim, Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Ma's visit to the Taiping Island was necessary at a time when China was engaged in a military buildup in the region.

(By Tai Ya-chen and Frances Huang)
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