This tiny islet in the South China Sea is now officially a “rock”—and the implications are global

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

On July 14, Taiwan’s ex-president Ma Ying-jeou held up a bottle of water during a press conference to prove a key point—that 400-meter-wide Itu Aba, the largest feature in the contested Spratly archipelago, is clearly not a rock. The water, sourced from the feature Taiwan calls Taiping Dao, is proof that it is actually an island, he said.
The difference is worth billions of dollars to Taiwan, and could affect nations from Japan to France.
Ma was responding to an international tribunal’s July 12 ruling that Itu Aba is legally a “rock,” based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). In terms of maritime rights, that means Itu Aba generates a paltry 12-nautical-mile territorial sea around it. The far more valuable designation of “island” produces an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles. That would have given Taiwan and its industries coveted rights to fish, oil, natural gas, and other resources.

This tiny islet in the South China Sea is now officially a “rock”—and the implications are global

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail