The Taiwanese Liaison Office in South Africa has blasted the Permanent Court of Arbitration for its recent unanimous finding in the South China Sea arbitration instituted by the Philippines against the Peoples’ Republic of China.
Rival countries have had territorial wrangles over the South China Sea for centuries, with tensions steadily increasing in recent years. China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam and Malaysia all have competing rights.
In the arbitration between the Philippines and China, the former sought a ruling on the source of the parties’ rights and obligations in the South China Sea, and the effect of the United Nations convention on the law of the sea on China’s claims to historic rights within its so-called “nine-dash line”.
The Philippines also sought a ruling on whether certain maritime features claimed by both China and the Philippines were properly characterised as islands, rocks, low-tide elevations or submerged banks under the convention.
The Philippines again sought a ruling that actions taken by China, in particular its large-scale land reclamation and construction of artificial islands in the Spratly Islands area since the arbitration started, had unlawfully aggravated and extended the parties’ dispute. In its award, the tribunal concluded that “to the extent China had historic rights to resources in the waters of the South China Sea, such rights were extinguished to the extent they were incompatible with the exclusive economic zones provided for in the convention”.
The tribunal also noted that although Chinese navigators and fishermen and those of other states had historically made use of the islands in the South China Sea, there was no evidence China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or their resources. The tribunal concluded there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the “nine-dash line”.
On the lawful actions of China, the tribunal found Beijing had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone by interfering with the Philippines’ fishing and petroleum exploration. China had also violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights by constructing artificial islands and failing to prevent its fishermen from fishing in the zone.
Although the findings of the tribunal are legally binding, the Republic of China (Taiwan) is defiant, saying the tribunal’s decisions “have no legally binding force” on it. Taiwan’s ambassador in South Africa, John Chen, said the award rendered by the tribunal “is completely unacceptable to our government”.
Chen said although his country was not party to the arbitration, the tribunal went beyond its mandate by making findings on Taiwan-administered Taiping Island, which was not included in the Philippines’ submission for arbitration.
“The tribunal took it upon itself to expand its authority to mislead the global community by redefining islands and rocks, implying that Taiping Island, among others, is merely a rock. This implies that Taiwan is only entitled to territorial seas extending for 12 nautical miles around Taiping Island and not the 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone it currently enjoys,” Chen said.
The tribunal did not invite Taiwan to participate in the proceedings, nor did it solicit its views.
“The tribunal’s decision is uninformed and unsupported, as it is exclusively based on documents presented by the Philippines.” Chen said the Permanent Court “is not a UN agency and holds no legal authority and should not be confused with the International Court of Justice, which is the primary judicial branch of the UN”.
Without Taiwan’s participation, the mechanisms to settle the disputes would not be effective.
“The Republic of China will continue to defend its sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and will not tolerate any attempts to harm Taiwan’s national interests.”