South China Sea: Taiwanese lawmakers land on Taiping Island in sovereignty, fishing rights push

Moves come after an international tribunal in the Hague rejected Taipei’s right to an exclusive economic zone around Taiping on July 12

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 July, 2016, 12:19pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 July, 2016, 10:11am

About 30 Taiwanese fishermen and lawmakers headed for Tai­ping Island in the South China Sea on Wednesday to support Taiwanese claims to sovereignty and fishing rights in the area.

The fishing boat flotilla and flight by lawmakers comes after an international tribunal last week rejected Taipei’s right to an exclusive economic zone around Taiping, also known as Itu Aba.

“It’s a serious issue to reduce Taiping Island to a ‘reef’,” Central News Agency quoted Cheng Chun-chung, the fisherman spearheading the flotilla protest, as saying.

Taiwanese lawmakers, fishing flotilla bound for Taiping Island

About 20 Pingtung county fishermen set off at about noon for Taiping in five boats draped in

Taiwanese flags and banners ­saying: “Safeguard fishing rights in the South China Sea,” and ­“Protect ancestral assets”. The protesters said they would spend the two-week trip fishing to underscore Taiwan’s sovereignty over the waters.

Ten boats signed up for the trip but five pulled out after warnings from fisheries authorities, organisers said.

Cheng said a fisheries official told him his boat licence would be revoked if he went to the island because his vessel was restricted to sailing between Taiwan, the mainland and Hong Kong. But Cheng said he would not back down.

A few hours earlier, eight lawmakers from Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party and opposition Kuomintang (KMT) boarded a military aircraft for a flight to Taiping, landing on the island at about 10.50am, CNA ­reported.

The legislators visited military facilities and a weather station on the island, and inspected solar power and satellite equipment before returning to Pingtung in the afternoon.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled on July 12 that Taiping was a rock rather than an island and was therefore not entitled to a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone under international law.

Taipei to hasten frigate patrol for Taiping Island in wake of South China Sea ruling

An island must be able to ­sustain human habitation or ­economic life, according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

KMT legislator Johnny Chiang Chi-chen, who headed the group, said the lawmakers sampled ­coconut juice from trees planted on the island.

Another lawmaker on the trip, Wang Ding-yu, said a well and ­solar power facilities had been established on the island, proving Taiping was habitable and could sustain human life.

Chiang also criticised Taiwan’s government for not taking substantial action to defend the island’s sovereignty in the region.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen called the Hague ruling unacceptable and said it was not binding on Taiwan.

Taiwan did not take part in the Hague proceedings.