If arbitrators will not visit Taiping
THE Taiwan government will neither acknowledge nor accept the upcoming ruling of The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) if the tribunal will not visit the disputed Itu Aba or Taiping Island in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
The warning was issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) over the tribunal’s failure to respond to Taiwan’s invitation to see Itu Aba, while the Philippines officially rejected the call.
Noting that “seeing is believing,” Taiwan wanted the five arbitrators from the PCA and the Philippine representatives or lawyers to personally obtain accurate information about Itu Aba amid Manila’s claim that the territory is a “rock,” not an “island.”
Mofa insisted that Itu Aba has fresh water that can grow crops and raise livestock, thus it can sustain human habitation and has an economic life of its own – enough to meet the criteria for an island as defined in Article 121 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
“The ROC government once again earnestly invites the tribunal’s five arbitrators to visit Taiping Island, so as to ensure that the tribunal’s award in the arbitration—which touches on a wide array of issues and is being closely watched—is in line with the facts and does not overly rely on the arguments of one side. If the tribunal does not accept the invitation, the award should not deal with the legal status of Taiping Island,” Mofa said.
“Any aspect of the award that undermines ROC sovereignty over the South China Sea Islands and affects ROC maritime entitlements will not be binding on the ROC,” it added.
In an alleged effort to downgrade the legal status of Itu Aba as an island, the Philippines earlier argued that it is a rock and that China should not have any maritime entitlements beyond 12 nautical miles of territorial sea.
Mofa also noted that the Philippine legal team has reportedly urged the tribunal to disregard evidence provided by Taiwan as it is not a party to the arbitration.
“The so-called experts hired by the Philippines have employed subjective standards that are excessively stringent or not internationally recognized, so as to downplay the quality of freshwater and natural soil on Taiping Island. They have also chosen to ignore the fact that independent international journalists and scholars have personally drunk freshwater on Taiping Island and consumed food prepared from crops grown on it. The statements of these experts do not hold up under closer scrutiny,” it said.
The ministry said Taiwan has been actively doing responsive measures to assert the legal status of Itu Aba as an island, including President Ma Ying-jeou’s visit in the area in January that was criticized as being “unhelpful” in resolving the tension in the region.
“Because the ROC was not invited to participate in the arbitration proceedings, and the arbitral tribunal has not solicited its views, the ROC government has, through statements, press releases, and visits to Taiping Island by ROC officials, domestic and international scholars, and foreign media, actively presented related evidence to the international community in response to the erroneous statements made by the Philippines,” it said.
The Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) refused to comment on the matter, saying that it has to check the information first with the concerned office.