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President Ma's remarks at opening ceremony of “2015 ILA-ASIL Asia-Pacific Research Forum”

I’m very happy to be here today for the opening ceremony of the 2015 ILA-ASIL Asia-Pacific Research Forum. It is highly significant that you have gathered here in Taipei from around the world to discuss the important role of international law in the process of Asia-Pacific integration.

Successful integration of the Asia-Pacific to achieve the goals of peace and prosperity depends on the ability of all nations in the region to embrace reconciliation and cooperation, and adhere to international law. The Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan approaches all issues regarding Asia-Pacific integration from exactly this fundamental standpoint. This includes the settlement of maritime disputes involving territorial sovereignty and natural resources by peaceful means.

Taiwan faces the sea on all sides—the Taiwan Strait to the west, the East China Sea to the north, the Pacific Ocean to the east, and the South China Sea to the south. Of course, these waters provide both opportunities as well as challenges. Security issues in the South China Sea have recently captured the world’s attention. So I would like to share the successful experiences of my administration in promoting peace in the region, first in the Taiwan Strait, then in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. And I would like to propose the South China Sea Peace Initiative as a viable means of dealing with current issues in this region.

Let me start with the Taiwan Strait. The civil war of 1947-49 between the Chinese Nationalists and Communists was a disaster for the Chinese people. The two sides of the Taiwan Strait have been under separate rule for 66 years, since the Republic of China government moved its seat to Taiwan in 1949. From the early 1950’s to the late 1970’s, the Taiwan Strait was first a battlefield—a killing field, and then a natural buffer zone in the Cold War. But since the late 1980’s, it has gradually been transformed into an avenue of peace and prosperity. How did that transformation come about?

The firm, sensible, and visionary policies of their leaders, and hard work on the part of both sides of the Strait, were critical here. Since my administration took office in 2008, the ROC government’s basic policies for handling the cross-strait relations have been, first of all, maintaining the status quo, which means: “no unification, no independence, and no use of force,” under the framework of the ROC Constitution. The second aspect of our policy has been to pursue cross-strait peaceful development on the basis of the 1992 Consensus, which is: “one China, respective interpretations.” And the common legal basis for these two policies is the ROC Constitution.

The ROC Constitution, which was adopted in 1947 on the Chinese mainland before the civil war broke out, was a one-China constitution. The birth of the communist regime in 1949 did not replace the ROC government, which continues to exist, and prosper, on Taiwan. So in terms of international law, no state succession was completed. Both sides claim the whole of China as their respective territory, at least in their respective constitutions. When the two sides of the Strait finally started to deal with each other peacefully and on equal footing, they first had to work out a solution of the “one China” issue before they could move ahead. Therefore, representatives of the two sides met in 1992 to negotiate, and eventually reached a consensus on the one-China issue. That consensus provides that both sides adhere to the “one-China” principle, but could have their respective interpretations of the meaning of that “one China.” So “one China, respective interpretations” has been called the 1992 Consensus ever since. For us, “one China” of course refers to the Republic of China, while the mainland has its own interpretation. This is a typical “agree-to-disagree” formula.

But we also have a legal dilemma. The ROC government, after the two sides became separately governed, could hardly recognize the existence of another nation-state in the ROC mainland territory. On the other hand, it would be unrealistic to ignore the 66-year-existence of a governing authority on Chinese soil only 100 nautical miles away. So we developed the concept of “mutual non-recognition of sovereignty, and mutual non-denial of governing authority,” or “mutual non-denial” for short.

The cross-strait relationship is therefore not a “state-to-state” relationship, because neither side sees the other as a foreign country. Instead, the cross-strait relationship is a special relationship to be handled not by the foreign ministries of the two sides, but by specially-created ministry-level agencies. In Taiwan, that agency is called the Mainland Affairs Council; in mainland China, it is called the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council. In fact, the ministers of the two agencies just met for two days this past weekend in Jinmen, or Quemoy, as it is known in the West, for their semi-annual meeting, where they addressed each other by their official titles. This is unprecedented ever since 1949.

So, the 1992 Consensus and “mutual non-denial” have been recognized as the best way to eliminate hostility between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, shelve the sovereignty dispute, and promote peace and prosperity. They also provide a pragmatic and definitive statement regarding the cross-strait status quo. The 1992 Consensus, of course has been criticized as being a “masterpiece of ambiguity.” Ambiguous or not, it works, and works well for both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

The facts show that since 2008, cross-strait relations have made great strides with the signing of 21 agreements covering a wide range of topics. When I took office 7 years ago, there were no direct scheduled flights between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, and travelers had to go through Hong Kong or Japan. But now there are 120 flights a day, covering 54 cities in the mainland and eight in Taiwan. The total number of visitors from the mainland last year reached 3.94 million, a 15-fold increase, and the number of mainland students has jumped 40 times from 800 to 32,000. On top of that, we have been able to effectively settle disputes through peaceful means, such as when mainland China declared an East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) at first, in November 2013, or when in January this year it established the new M503 flight route within its Flight Information Region (FIR), but right in the middle of the Taiwan Strait. These two things are pretty sensitive, politically and militarily. So the two sides were able to communicate effectively in negotiating a settlement.

I was glad to learn that the authoritative textbook in the United States, International Law: Cases and Materials (Fifth edition, 2009, p. 343) refers to our position of “mutual non-denial of governing authority.” Professor Lori Damrosch, here with us today, was part of the authorial team led by the late Professor Louis Henkin. I hope more attention can be paid to this new concept, and its effective application in international law for divided nations.

Now let me turn to the East China Sea. The East China Sea is another case I would like to introduce.

The Diaoyutai Islands, which the Japanese call Senkaku Retto, are eight small and uninhabited islands with a total land area of six square kilometers. They are at the heart of the dispute in the East China Sea, and the ROC has consistently maintained that the Diaoyutais have been an inherent part of Chinese territory since 1683, as islands appertaining to the province of Taiwan. This position is supported by very strong evidence from geography, geology, history, and international law.

While problems in the East China Sea have a long history dating back to the late 1960’s, the most recent increase in tension was caused primarily by steps that Japan, which has physical control of the Diaoyurai islands, took in September 2012 to nationalize those islands. That nationalization led to large-scale demonstrations against Japan in 20 cities on the Chinese mainland. Even before Japan took these actions, I proposed the East China Sea Peace Initiative on the 5th of August that year, which was the 60th anniversary of the day the Sino [Republic of China (Taiwan)]-Japanese Peace Treaty of 1952 came into effect. While insisting that the ROC has sovereignty over the Diaoyutai Islands, under the concept that sovereignty cannot be divided but resources can be shared, the initiative calls on concerned parties to shelve disputes, respect international law, resolve disagreements peacefully, and negotiate the sharing of resources and their cooperative development.

Responses to our East China Sea Peace Initiative have been very positive, and based on its spirit, Taiwan and Japan made a breakthrough in fisheries talks in five months, signing a fisheries agreement in April 2013 in the 17th round of fisheries talks since 1996. That agreement settled a fisheries dispute that had lasted for over 40 years. The accord covers about 70,000 square kilometers (or 21,600 square nautical miles) of waters around the Diaoyutai Islands, in which fishermen from each side may operate without interference from coast guard ships of the other party. Moreover, the sovereignty dispute has been set aside for the time being, and as a “without prejudice” clause in Article 4 stipulates that the sovereignty claims of the two sides are not affected by the fisheries agreement. Since the agreement took effect, fishermen’s catches have risen dramatically, particularly for very attractive species of bluefin tuna, while the number of incidents dropped nearly to zero, and tension in the East China Sea have greatly eased. The East China Sea Peace Initiative has thus achieved the goal of shelving disputes while creating a win-win situation, and can serve as a model for peaceful development in the South China Sea. It has also been praised by high U.S., European, and Australian officials in the last two years as an effective way to promote regional peace.

Issues of concern to countries surrounding the South China Sea, and to the world, developed for the most part after the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) came into being, and have persisted for over 30 years. Experience tells us that the only way to resolve disputes among South China Sea countries is to maintain an approach of reconciliation, cooperation, and peace. In the Guang Da Xing No. 28 incident on May 9, 2013, for example, one Taiwanese fishermen, suspected of illegal fishing in the Philippines Exclusive Economic Zone, was shot dead, and the vessel seriously damaged, when the Philippines coast guard opened fire with automatic weapons. Amid huge public uproar over the incident, however, the ROC and the Philippines engaged in rational negotiations. Manila eventually agreed to our demand to formally apologize, provide compensation to the victim’s family, and prosecute those responsible for homicide. The two sides also reached a consensus on law enforcement in the overlapping Exclusive Economic Zone to prevent a recurrence of similar incidents. In fact, a Taiwanese fishing boat was detained early this month by the Philippines coast guard for illegal fishing in their territorial waters, which the fishermen on board denied. After a preliminary investigation, the boat was released in a week, and fined US$50,000. Another incident occurred yesterday afternoon, again, in the overlapping Exclusive Economic Zone of the Republic of China and the Philippines. A Filipino armed coast guard went on board a Taiwanese fishing vessel, the Ming Chin Tsai No. 6. Our coast guard also went to the scene and started negotiations with their Filipino counterpart. With the help of our office in Manila, the vessel was released three hours later.

So we can see, these cases showed that the consensus reached on law enforcement did work, in that no force was used—first of all, there was advance notice prior to taking enforcement action—second, and the crew and boat were released promptly.

With respect to issues in the South China Sea, as I have repeatedly stressed in the past, the ROC government maintains that from the perspectives of history, geography, and international law, the Nansha (Spratly), Shisha (Paracel), Chungsha (Macclesfield Bank), and Tungsha (Pratas) Islands, as well as their surrounding waters, are an inherent part of ROC territory and waters. It is indisputable that the ROC enjoys all rights over them in accordance with international law. On this position, we have never wavered. In fact, the ROC has stationed personnel on Taiping Island, the largest natural island in the Nansha—the Spratly group—and the only island in that group that has fresh water, proving that it is fit for human habitation, and able to maintain its own economic life. We have thus demonstrated the exercise of ROC sovereignty in this region.

Our position on sovereignty is firm, alright. But to peacefully resolve disputes in the South China Sea, the ROC government is proposing the South China Sea Peace Initiative. I will now read from key parts of this Initiative:

The Republic of China government, upholding the basic principles of safeguarding sovereignty, shelving disputes, pursuing peace and reciprocity, and promoting joint development, is willing to exploit resources in the South China Sea in cooperation with the other parties concerned. It is also prepared to actively participate in related dialogue and cooperation mechanisms to resolve disputes through peaceful means, safeguard regional peace, and promote regional development. As this year, 2015, marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, the countries surrounding the South China Sea should heed the lessons of history and commit themselves to advancing regional peace and prosperity. Therefore, in view of the rising tensions in the South China Sea, the Republic of China, based on its successful peace-making experiences in the East China Sea and part of the South China Sea, hereby solemnly proposes the South China Sea Peace Initiative, calling on all parties concerned to:

1. Exercise restraint, safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea, and refrain from taking any unilateral action that might escalate tensions;

2. Respect the principles and spirit of relevant international law, including the Charter of the United Nations and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, peacefully deal with and settle disputes through dialogue and consultations, and jointly uphold the freedom and safety of navigation and overflight through the South China Sea;

3. Ensure that all parties concerned are included in the mechanisms or measures that enhance peace and prosperity in the South China Sea, for instance, a maritime cooperation mechanism or code of conduct (COC);

4. Shelve sovereignty disputes and establish a regional cooperation mechanism for the zonal development of resources in the South China Sea under integrated planning; and

5. Set up coordination and cooperation mechanisms for such nontraditional security issues as environmental protection, scientific research, maritime crime fighting, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

The Republic of China is willing to work with the other parties concerned to implement the content and spirit of the South China Sea Peace Initiative in order to resolve disputes and jointly develop resources, thereby making the South China Sea a “Sea of Peace and Cooperation” similar to the East China Sea.

In the days to come, relevant agencies will provide more detailed explanations regarding the South China Sea Peace Initiative. Basically, the Republic of China hopes to be a responsible stakeholder, and a regional peacemaker.

We emphasize that while sovereignty cannot be divided, resources can be shared, thereby replacing sovereignty disputes with resource sharing;

So we propose that disputes be shelved, and development proceed jointly, with integrated regional planning and zonal development;

We demand that freedom of navigation and overflight be respected in the South China Sea.

We provide a pragmatic and forward-looking course of action, before a major conflict breaks out.

Whether in the Taiwan Strait, East China Sea, or South China Sea, our approach is the same—to resolve disputes through peaceful means. I am sure you would all agree that this is the most appropriate way to deal with international affairs.

Ladies and gentlemen, what we have done in the East China Sea has shown very clearly that if we can solve the resources problem, we would actually cast aside the territorial disputes, and make it less troublesome in moving ahead. That is why we proposed the East China Sea Peace Initiative three years ago, and this year I want to extend the spirit and content of the East China Sea Peace Initiative to the South China Sea.

In closing, I hope that you will enjoy your stay in Taiwan, particularly for those who have come to Taiwan for the first time in their life. I would suggest that you take a walk at the National Palace Museum, where you will enjoy art treasures of the past 3,500 years, collections of at least 25 emperors that reflects our past. But you might want to see the present Taiwan, so please do go to the night market.

Welcome to the Republic of China, and I hope you will take this opportunity to learn more about the Republic of China and Taiwan.

Thank you very much.

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