Of all the countries on Earth, only Taiwan agrees with and supports all of China’s legal claims in the South China Sea. And Taiwan isn’t even considered to be a country by China, the U.S., and most other nations. But China’s government appears to view the South China Sea as an opportunity for cooperation between the two estranged governments. The current Taiwan government tacitly supports China’s expansive claims in the region by adhering to identical claims. Because Taiwan makes these claims as a rival government rather than as a separate country, Taiwan’s statements and actions buttress and support China’s identical claims. For instance, Taiwan’s military occupies Taiping Island—the largest land feature in the much-contested Spratly Islands—and China uses Taiwan’s military presence as a basis for many of its territorial and maritime claims. Taiwan’s government also originated the controversial “9 Dash Line” claim now espoused by China, and it is Taiwanese scholars who have provided much of intellectual ammunition in support.
One might expect the U.S. to welcome polls showing that the candidate of Taiwan’s traditionally pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Tsai Ing-wen, is anticipated to win next month’s presidential elections a landslide. As part of efforts to repel China’s South China Sea claims, the U.S. has reportedly encouraged Taiwan to limit or abandon its claims in the region. And on that point, Tsai is a more likely US ally than the current Nationalist Party administration. But the U.S. should proceed with caution in pushing a new Taiwan government to oppose China in the South China Sea. Support for a new Taiwan South China Sea policy will inevitably become intertwined with support for formal Taiwanese independence, a position the U.S. does not currently support.