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ROC reiterates position on South China Sea arbitration between Philippines, mainland China

  • Date:2016-05-13
  • Data Source:Public Diplomacy Coordination Council

May 13, 2016
Press Release No. 115

The government of the Republic of China has made its position on the South China Sea arbitration brought by the Philippines against mainland China at the Permanent Court of Arbitration known to the international community and arbitral tribunal through a number of statements and press releases, as well as visits to Taiping Island by ROC officials, domestic and international scholars, and foreign media. It is reported that the Philippine legal team has urged the tribunal to disregard evidence provided by the ROC as it is not a party to the arbitration, and once again distorted the facts and misinterpreted the law, arguing that Taiping Island is merely a rock, not an island.
With regard to this claim, the ROC Ministry of Foreign Affairs hereby declares its position:
1. Whether from the perspective of history, geography, or international law, the Nansha (Spratly) Islands, Shisha (Paracel) Islands, Chungsha (Macclesfield Bank) Islands, and Tungsha (Pratas) Islands, and their surrounding waters, are an inherent part of ROC territory and waters. The ROC enjoys all rights over them in accordance with international law. This is indisputable.
2. The ROC is a responsible member of the international community. It has long supported efforts to peacefully resolve disputes between parties concerned in the South China Sea through consultations or legal channels on the basis of fairness, transparency, and equality. It has also called on parties concerned to refrain from taking unilateral actions that might increase tensions, and to jointly safeguard the freedom of navigation and overflight in the region.
3. With regard to the arbitration brought by the Philippines against mainland China, in which an award is expected this year, the Philippine government, without first consulting with the ROC, has distorted the original meaning of ROC government documents on numerous occasions during the proceedings, and has aimed to downgrade the legal status of Taiping Island, undermining regional peace and stability. 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 actively presented related evidence to the international community in response to the erroneous statements made by the Philippines. Furthermore, the government has publicly invited the five arbitrators, as well as Philippine representatives, to visit Taiping Island and gain a better understanding of the facts.
4. However, the arbitral tribunal has not yet responded to the ROC government’s sincere invitations, which are based on respect for international legal proceedings. The Philippines, meanwhile, has recently delivered a letter declining the ROC invitation. In fact, the Philippines has continued to incorrectly state that Taiping Island is a rock. It has even indicated to the tribunal that since the ROC is not a party to the arbitration, evidence presented by the ROC should not be taken into consideration. Therefore, as the ROC government has not been able to express views concerning issues affecting its rights and interests in an equal and fair manner, it solemnly raises the following points:
4.1. The arbitrators, as well as Philippine representatives, should have gone on fact-finding missions to Taiping Island to inspect its natural environment and infrastructure. However, the Philippines has declined the ROC government’s invitations. As the tribunal has not responded to the ROC government’s invitations and its arbitrators have not personally visited Taiping Island, it should not rashly accept the Philippines’ false statements and issue a flawed award that prejudices the rights and interests of the ROC. After all, as is said in the West, seeing is believing.
4.2. Previously, the Philippines distorted the meaning of documents provided by the ROC government and scholars. When confronted with strong historical and legal evidence put forth by the ROC government, the Philippines began making contradictory statements and requested that the arbitral tribunal not view the ROC as a party to the case and not admit evidence provided by the ROC. The tribunal should not take into consideration the Philippines’ false statements, which are full of contradictions and disregard international legal procedures.
4.3. The Philippines continues to make accusations that do not stand up to closer examination and empirical evidence, saying that Taiping Island cannot sustain human habitation, does not have economic life of its own, and is merely a rock. In order to ensure that the international community holds a correct view on this matter, the ROC government refutes the Philippine arguments as follows:
4.3.1. Paragraph 3 of Article 121 of UNCLOS stipulates that an island which can sustain human habitation and has an economic life of its own is entitled to an exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, while a rock is entitled to only 12 nautical miles of territorial sea. In an effort to downgrade the legal status of Taiping Island, the Philippines has unilaterally added many dubious conditions to the aforementioned stipulation that have not been recognized internationally and lack credibility.
4.3.2. For example, the Philippines claims that residents on the island must be indigenous civilians and not military or police personnel. The Philippines also claims that if the number of residents on the island and the duration of their residence do not reach a certain number or length, their presence does not mean that the island can sustain human habitation. However, the Philippines has consistently been unable to answer why military and police personnel do not qualify as humans. Nor has the Philippines been able to provide clear and internationally recognized definitions for concepts such as the number of residents and duration of residence. Therefore, the Philippines’ arguments should not be admitted.
4.3.3. 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.
4.3.4. The soil on Taiping Island is classified as Entisol, but not all newly formed soil is of low fertility. For example, the silt that is deposited along the banks of many rivers in Taiwan is Entisol, but it can be made highly productive through soil management technology. Wind erosion has transformed the 20 cm of topsoil on the agricultural area of Taiping Island into sandy loam (containing about 50%-70% sand). It is not purely sandy soil, but is lush with organic material derived from the addition, decomposition, and cyclic turnover of vegetation like leaves and tree branches. It has a granular structure and is rich in plant roots, giving it a basic water- and nutrient-holding capacity, which has allowed for the cultivation of 27 types of crops. The Philippines has cited the UN Food and Agriculture Organization standard according to which 0.22 hectare of cultivated area is needed to feed one person for one year. This conservative estimate does not take into account the characteristics of the topsoil, agricultural techniques, and other aspects of the environment. In fact, the production from the agricultural area and indigenous vegetation (e.g., coconut, papaya, and plantain) on Taiping Island can feed at least 50 to 100 people.
4.3.5. Water quality According to the standards established by the US-based Groundwater Foundation, the American Meteorological Society, and the US Geological Survey, freshwater is defined as having less than 500 mg/L or 1,000 mg/L of total dissolved solids (TDS). Two water-quality tests conducted on well no. 5 on Taiping Island found its TDS level to be 418 mg/L and 427 mg/L, respectively, within international standards for freshwater. Analysis of two groundwater samples from Taiping Island using the Piper diagram—an internationally authoritative index that gives a graphic representation of water chemistry—classified the water as type I, i.e., uncontaminated groundwater. According to the standards set for Taiwan’s drinking water and drinking water sources, the maximum concentration levels of chloride, sulfate, and TDS are 250 mg/L, 250 mg/L, and 500 mg/L, respectively. Findings from the two water-quality tests conducted on well no. 5 on Taiping Island showed the chloride level to be 122 mg/L and 106 mg/L, sulfate level 25.0 mg/L and 19.2 mg/L, and TDS value 418 mg/L and 427 mg/L. Philippine experts have questioned Taiwan’s method and time of testing. However, the methods used by Taiwan experts to assess water quality and the time when the tests were conducted conform to the regulations of Taiwan’s Environmental Protection Administration, as well as international standards. Philippine experts have also argued that the period between February and May is the dry season on Taiping Island, and its freshwater wells dry up by April or May. However, a group of international law experts drank freshwater from local wells when visiting Taiping Island on April 15 of this year at the invitation of the ROC government. On another tour organized on May 5, former heads of ROC national security, executive, national defense, and foreign affairs agencies also sampled freshwater from the island. This provides concrete evidence that Taiping Island has an abundant supply of freshwater, refuting the groundless arguments made by the Philippines. Well no. 5 on Taiping Island can thus supply potable freshwater. That there are ample reserves of freshwater on the island to sustain human habitation is indisputable.
5. 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 still decides to not accept the ROC’s invitation, its award should not deal with the legal status of Taiping Island. 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. The ROC government will neither acknowledge nor accept such an award. (E)