As the Dust Settles on South China Sea Award, the Neighbourhood Reacts Cautiously

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Some countries may want to use the verdict to needle China, but the neighbourhood has reacted cautiously, to ensure that any gains from political negotiations are not undone by the award.

A fisherman repairs his boat overlooking fishing boats that fish in the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, at Masinloc, Zambales, in the Philippines April 22, 2015. Credit: Reuters/Erik De Castro/File Photo
A fisherman repairs his boat overlooking fishing boats that fish in the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, at Masinloc, Zambales, in the Philippines April 22, 2015. Credit: Reuters/Erik De Castro/File Photo
Taipei: Extraordinary developments have marked Taiwan’s political landscape this week, with the China Post and Taipei Times, the country’s two English language dailies, leading with the story of a “fishing expedition” to the Itu Aba (Taiping) island. The expedition to Itu Aba, comprising three fishing vessels, sought to underline “Taiwan’s sovereignty and fishing rights” over the island, both of which have been questioned by the recent arbitral award in the South China Sea dispute between China and the Philippines. The expeditioners, remarkably, have acted in direct contravention of guidelines issued by the Taiwan defence ministry after the tribunal’s verdict, requiring civilians to notify the government of their travel to Itu Aba 45 days in advance. “Angered” by this directive, a group of Taiwanese fishermen planned the visit as a show of strength and the expedition has gained such public support that the country’s coast guard allowed it to land on Itu Aba’s pier yesterday. Meanwhile, the opposition has demanded the resignation of the cabinet spokesperson who suggested that such expeditions “will not increase” Taiwan’s sovereignty over Itu Aba.

As Asian countries grasp the implications of the South China Sea award, many governments in the neighbourhood have appealed for calm, realising the potential the verdict has to stoke nationalist movements across the region. Taiwan’s representative to the Philippines, Gary Song-Huann Lin, suggested last week that the “PCA award has ushered in the end of a stable Pacific era and the rapid rise of Chinese nationalism”. But he also criticised the award as “unacceptable and unfair”. Taiwan’s predicament is understandable: in one fell swoop, the five-judge tribunal ruled that the Itu Aba island was nothing but a “rock” under the UN Convention on the Law of Sea regime, that generated no sovereign rights for Taiwan. Taiwan was, in this respect, dragged before the tribunal against its will, and forced to intervene in the middle of the arbitral hearing.

http://thewire.in/54378/as-the-dust-settles-on-south-china-sea-award-the-neighbourhood-reacts-cautiously/

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