Tsai Ing-wen tells warship crew to defend Taiwan’s interests as they set off for island in South China Sea

Taipei has rejected an international tribunal ruling that questions its legal right to claim waters around Taiping Island in a disputed area of the ocean

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 July, 2016, 1:35pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 July, 2016, 11:20pm

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen briefly boarded a naval warship on Wednesday and addressed its crew before it set off to “defend Taiwan’s territory” in the South China Sea.

The naval patrol to Taiping Island in an disputed area of the ocean’s waters comes after an international tribunal ruled that it was merely a “rock” that conferred no maritime rights to a 200- nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

Tsai told the crew on board the frigate to do all they could to safeguard Taiwan’s sovereignty in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

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The president, who is commander in chief of Taiwan’s armed forces, said: “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 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.

“This naval mission is to demonstrate the resolution of Taiwanese people in defending our national interests.”

Beijing has also praised Taiwan’s efforts to defend the Taiping Island.

Liu Zhenmin, the mainland’s vice-foreign minister, said on Wednesday that it was the common interest and responsibility of both sides to protect the maritime rights of the South China Sea.

The international tribunal in The Hague on Tuesday dismissed mainland China’s claims to much of the South China Sea.

But it also ruled that features that remain above water at high tide in the Spratlys had the legal status of “rocks”, including Taiping, which is administered by Taiwan.

Taipei has attacked the tribunal’s findings, saying it has long considered the 46-hectare feature an island.

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Tsai, however, also sounded a more conciliatory note in saying that Taiwan still supported resolving maritime and territorial disputes through negotiations in a peaceful manner.

“We are willing to join other countries in promoting peace and stability in the South China Sea under a equal footing,” she said.

Tsai’s government held a national security meeting before the ruling was announced on Tuesday.

It decided to reject the tribunal findings, given that they have no legal binding force.

The government also said Taiwan was never invited to take part in the arbitration process, nor had its opinions been sought.

Several government agencies, including the foreign, defence, interior and mainland affairs ministries, all issued statements rejecting the ruling. They also upheld Taiwan’s historical claims to islands in the South China Sea.

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Chiu Chui-cheng, vice chairman of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, said the tribunal’s rejection of the “nine-dash line”, which mark mainland China’s claims to much of the South China Sea, was also unacceptable.

“The Republic of China [in Taiwan] enjoys the rights to various South China Sea islands and relevant waters in line with international law and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the locations of those South China Sea islands are based on the map [the ROC] had drawn in 1947,” Chiu said.

There had been speculation that Taipei might drop its historical claims in the South China Sea, but this was dismissed by the government.

All political parties in Taiwan, including the main opposition Kuomintang, are supporting the government’s position in rejecting the tribunal ruling.

Some KMT lawmakers urged the government to send more frigates to patrol the area around Taiping.

Others said Tsai should have led the naval frigate sailing to Taiping to uphold Taiwan’s claims.