Where does Taiwan stand on the South China Sea?


In January 2016, Tsai Ing-wen was elected president of the Republic of China (ROC, Taiwan). She will take office later this month. As the first president from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party in eight years, Tsai’s election represents a wildcard of sorts for the ROC’s ongoing claims in the South China Sea.

Whatever course she takes as president, her South China Sea policy will be governed by one central dilemma. This dilemma stems from the difficult reality that ROC possesses a similar position to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the disputed waters, while it still aims to pursue international standards of best practice. How has this dilemma shaped policy so far, and how is it likely to evolve?

The 1992 Consensus — ‘One China, respective interpretations’ — agreed to by the ROC and the PRC poses preconditions on the ROC’s foreign interactions. While both parties have worked towards ‘the gradual institutionalisation of the cross-strait relationship’, the ROC’s voice in the international community has had limited impact. It has been barred from participating in international and regional regimes and dialogues, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The ROC and PRC positions on the South China Sea have significant commonalities. Both claim the legitimacy of U-shaped lines, such as the so-called nine-dash line, and their sovereignty from a historical perspective. But in terms of their status in the international community and their interpretation of international standards, the two positions vary.