The recent ruling by The Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration rejecting China’s territorial claims to islands in the South China Sea has not only sparked a fire-breathing response from Beijing, but has also left Taiwan unhappy.
Taiwan is concerned about the ruling’s impact on its sovereignty over Taiping Island, which it considers its southernmost point.
Several countries in East Asia including China, the Philippines, and Taiwan, have competing claims over ocean areas that include fishing grounds and some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, with 30 percent of global trade passing through those waters. There are also two chains of islands, the Spratly and the Paracel islands, some of which are believed to be untapped sources of natural gas and minerals.
In one of the latest episodes in this ongoing saga, China categorically rejected the July 12 Hague ruling that its claims to rights in the South China Sea have no legal basis. The arbitration settled a territorial case brought to the court by the Philippines. China disputed the court’s jurisdiction, and refused to take part in the proceedings.
The judges ruled in favour of the Philippines, which elicited an even more furious reaction from Beijing.
Taiwan’s angst stems from the fact that part of the ruling also stated that all the land in the disputed Spratly chain of islands are reefs and not islands. This in effect nullifies Taiwan’s claim to Taiping, the largest natural island in the South China Sea, which the Republic of China (Taiwan’s official name) administers as part of Kaosiung, a municipality in south-western Taiwan facing the Taiwan Strait.
According to the ruling, Taiping, being a rock or reef, has no right to be a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone under international law.
One consequence of the ruling is that it puts the fishing rights of Taiwanese fishermen in jeopardy.
At a National Security Council meeting on July 19, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen stated: “The wrongful classification of Taiping Island as a rock severely jeopardizes the rights of the nation.”
“The award is totally unacceptable to the people and has no legally binding force on the ROC,” the president added. “The ROC will therefore take actions based on four principles.”
She announced that her government will step up patrol missions to safeguard the rights and safety of Taiwan fishermen operating in the South China Sea. She also instructed Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to pursue a peaceful settlement through multilateral dialogue with all parties concerned.
The Hague ruling and its aftermath have also further complicated the Bermuda triangle of Canada-China- Taiwan relations since the area is becoming a flashpoint with potentially serious consequences for global trade and security.
While this dispute and ruling may not capture much immediate public attention in Canada, the country does have a stake in its outcome, particularly its effect on peace and stability in the region, according to a former Canadian diplomat.
The heightening of tensions in East Asia does not serve Canada well, says Gordon Houldon, director of the China Institute at the University of Alberta. His 30-year career with Foreign Affairs Canada included service as a Minister at the Canadian embassy in Beijing and executive director of the Canadian Trade Office in Taipei.
In a column published in the Edmonton Journal he wrote: “As a nation heavily dependent upon trade, Canada requires the unimpeded flow of trade. While no party to this dispute has threatened closing these waters to commerce, armed conflict in the South China Sea would have that effect, with immediate economic consequences that would not spare Canada.”
Susan Korah is a freelance journalist based in Ottawa. She has a Master of Journalism degree from Carleton University, and writes on Canadian and international politics as well as travel and lifestyle.