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President dismisses claims that Taiwan's Taiping Island is only reef

President dismisses claims that Taiwan's Taiping Island is only reef

President Ma Ying-jeou has dismissed allegations that Taiping Island -- the largest of the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea and controlled by Taiwan -- is not an island, but a reef.

The president said claims that Taiping has no fresh water, no arable land, and is not a natural island, are false.

He displayed the dishes he had for lunch Monday on his Facebook page, which showed fried okra, bitter gourd and loofah, all produced on Taiping Island, which lies 1,600 km south of Taiwan.

The president's remarks came against the background of a case filed against China by the Philippines at an international arbitration panel to clarify the nature of disputed features in the South China Sea.

While Beijing tends to characterize most of these features as islands, which can generate their own 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ's) and continental shelves, Manila instead claims that at most they are only rocks or reefs unfit for human habitation and which can generate a maximum of 12 nautical mile territorial areas.

Ma noted that Taiping is the largest island in the Spratlys and a natural island with its own source of fresh water. Presently, the four wells on the island can produce 65 tons of good quality water per day.

The island is also covered with indigenous plants. It has 147 trees that are more than 10 meters high, he went on, noting that one of the largest, a lantern tree, is about 907 cm wide and is estimated to be 363 years old.

The island also produces coconuts, pineapple and bananas.

The president said personnel stationed on the island have made good use of the resources on the island to grow bananas and coconuts, as well as keeping chickens and goats to supply their daily needs, and dogs for security.

From the perspectives of law, economy and geography, Taiping meets the definition of an island under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and is sufficient for maintaining human life.

Noting that vegetables grown on the island are good to eat, "who can say Taiping is not an island?" he asked.

Taiwan inaugurated a renovated wharf and a newly constructed lighthouse on the island Dec. 12, and declared its determination to the international community to transform Taiping into a peaceful, eco-friendly and low-carbon island.

Several countries claim part or all of the South China Sea, including Taiwan, China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia.

Taiwan is taking an interest in the case because its sovereignty claims in the region are similar to China's, with both dating back to a multi-dash line broached in 1947 when the mainland was still under the control of the Republic of China.

The ROC moved its seat of government to Taipei after Nationalist forces led by Chiang Kai-shek were defeated in the Chinese civil war and retreated to Taiwan in 1949.

But both the ROC and the People's Republic of China maintain sovereignty claims based on the U-shaped line that encompasses the vast majority of the South China Sea. (By Hsieh Chia-chen and Lilian Wu)


Updated : 2021-09-19 01:25 GMT+08:00