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Taiwan - South China Sea

The government of the Republic of China [Taiwan] position is that whether looked at from the perspective of history, geography or international law, the Spratly Islands, Paracel Islands, Chungsha Islands (Macclesfield Bank) and Tungsha (Pratas) Islands, as well as their surrounding waters, are an inherent part of the territory of the Republic of China (Taiwan). These archipelagoes therefore fall under the sovereignty of the Republic of China (Taiwan). The government asserts that it enjoys all rights over the islands and their surrounding waters, and that it denies all unlawful claims to sovereignty over, or occupation of, these areas by other countries.

The government of the Republic of China (Taiwan) upholds the basic principles of “safeguarding sovereignty, shelving disputes, promoting peace and reciprocity, and encouraging joint exploration” to resolve South China Sea disputes. It hereby again calls on all neighboring countries to respect the principles and spirit of international law, exercise self-restraint, maintain freedom of navigation, and refrain from adopting unilateral measures that threaten the peace and stability of the region. Taiwan urges these countries to engage in dialogue rather than confrontation, so that a peaceful resolution can be reached.

Located on the eastern edge of the South China Sea, 200 nautical miles southeast of Hong Kong, Pratas Island has long presented a quandary for Taiwan's defense planners. The island's remote location and topography were cited by the Ministry of National Defense (MND) in 1999 as reasons for withdrawing the Taiwan Marine Corps detachment that had traditionally taken responsibility for defending Taiwan's territorial claim in the area. Even before the turnover, current and former Taiwan officials said that MND devoted few resources to the island's defense, providing the former 1,000-man garrison with obsolete equipment and a dilapidated physical infrastructure.

By 2002, the Taiwan military had completed its turnover of the island's airstrip and port facilities to the Taiwan Coast Guard, which made modest upgrades to its defenses. While the Ministry of Interior (MOI) put forward a proposal in 2003 to upgrade the island's port facilities in order to reinforce Taiwan's control over the island and its surrounding waters, the political leadership remained generally disengaged on the issue.

While the Ministry of Interior (MOI) put forward a proposal in 2003 to upgrade the island's port facilities in order to reinforce Taiwan's control over the island and its surrounding waters, the political leadership remained generally disengaged on the issue. By 2005, the Executive Yuan's (EY) interagency "South Sea Task Force" which was charged with managing the government's Pratas policy had not held a single meeting since 2002.

The Pratas issue was thrust back on to the front burner on 27 May 2005, when a Taiwan Coast Guard vessel threatened to board the PRC research vessel Feng-Dow No. 4 if it did not immediately depart from the waters off the Pratas Coast. The May 27 incident came in the wake of a series of confrontations between the Taiwan Coast Guard detachment on Pratas and PRC research and fishing vessels operating in the area.

As early as February 2005, the Coast Guard had scuffled with PRC fishermen attempting to construct a temporary shelter on the island. Following that episode, officials tell AIT that up to 200 PRC fishing vessels tried to blockade the Coast Guard facility, ostensibly to protest Taiwan's refusal to allow PRC fishermen to land on the island during bad weather. The confrontation with PRC fishing boats was followed up in April-May by a series of incursions by two PRC research ships, the Tan-Baw and Feng-Dow No. 4, both escorted by PRC fishing vessels.

Taiwan (and Japan) assesses that the PRC may be seeking to use aggressive, but non-violent, measures to gradually push Taiwan personnel off the island to allow the PLA to use the island as a base of operations in the area. Pratas is well-positioned to control shipping lanes into both the Taiwan Strait and, more importantly, the Luzon Strait, through which much of Japan's trade with Southeast Asia and the Middle East flows.

Beijing may wish to control the Pratas facility in order to provide its southern fleet, and especially its submarine force, greater room to operate undetected. Following the reported early June 2005 accident involving a PRC Ming-class submarine near Pratas, Taiwan MND officials publicly touted the island's potential to monitor PLA Navy movements as part of its public campaign to win funding for procurement of P-3C anti-submarine aircraft. Beijing's suspected efforts to use fishing and research vessels to change the facts on the ground are aided by the fact that the Taiwan and international media are barely aware of the island's existence.

The territorial disputes resurfaced after China stationed an oil rig in the South China Sea on 01 May 2014, sparking anti-Chinese sentiment among the Vietnamese people and leading to protest demonstrations that spread from Ho Chi Min City to Binh Duong province, Dong Nai province, and other areas. Because the Taiwanese factories in those areas bore Chinese characters in their signs, protesters mistook them to be Chinese factories and broke into some of them to loot and set fires. More than 100 Taiwanese factories were damaged, but there were no major personal injuries.

Taiwan is considering stationing armed vessels permanently on a disputed South China Sea island, officials said 15 October 2014. Itu Aba, also known as Tai Ping, is the only island in the Spratlys large enough to accommodate a port - currently under construction. Taiwan had previously said the port, expected to be completed in late 2015, would allow 3,000-ton naval frigates and coastguard cutters to dock there. Officials at Taiwan's Coast Guard, which administers Itu Aba, and Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense, which stations troops there, said the port could become the permanent home of armed vessels.




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