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President Ma's remarks at International Conference on South China Sea Disputes and International Law

On the morning of April 14, President Ma Ying-jeou attended the International Conference on South China Sea Disputes and International Law at the Downtown Campus of Soochow University in Taipei. In remarks, the president explained how important the South China Sea region is to national security, as well as the historical and legal evidence on which the ROC's sovereignty over the islands of the South China Sea is based. He then reiterated that the ROC advocates negotiations based on the South China Sea Peace Initiative and Roadmap, and reviewed the ROC's actions and efforts to safeguard Taiping Island's sovereignty and status as a bona fide island.

A transcript of President Ma's remarks follows:

Mr. Pan Wei-ta (潘維大), President, Soochow University;
Mr. Cheng Chia-jui (程家瑞), Professor, Soochow University;
Mr. David Y. L. Lin (林永樂), Minister of Foreign Affairs;
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and gentlemen:

Good morning!

I'm very happy to be here today for the opening ceremony of the International Conference on South China Sea Disputes and International Law, hosted by Soochow University. Over the past few years, issues surrounding the South China Sea have become a matter of great global concern, and those issues inevitably involve the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and maritime rights of the Republic of China (ROC).

Today, I also want to take this opportunity to explain the importance of the South China Sea to the ROC.

I. The importance of the South China Sea for ROC security
In terms of geography, the South China Sea runs from the Philippine archipelago in the east to the Taiwan Strait in the north, and from the Malay Peninsula and Strait of Malacca in the west to Indonesia in the south. Contiguous with the ROC, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and mainland China, the South China Sea has a total area of 3.5 million square kilometers. Although its geography makes shipping convenient for all the surrounding countries, the South China Sea is also susceptible to maritime rights conflicts involving the concerned parties.

Since it's located between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, about one-third of the world's merchant shipping passes through the South China Sea. The oil transport and supply lines for the countries of East Asia, as well as their submarine cables, also pass through the South China Sea, making it an important international waterway.

At the same time, the South China Sea also has abundant oil and gas resources. In April of 1969 a multi-national research team led by the American marine geologist K.O. Emery issued the well-known Emery Report, indicating for the first time that the South China Sea continental shelf may contain massive oil and gas reserves. In 2013 a US Energy Information Administration report also estimated that over 11 billion barrels of oil can be extracted from the South China Sea region. That's about 12% of global oil reserves.

II. ROC sovereignty over all islands in the South China Sea: historical and legal evidence
To address sovereignty disputes surrounding the islands of the South China Sea, the ROC government has already solemnly declared numerous times that from the perspective of history, geography, or international law the Nansha (Spratly) Islands, Shisha (Paracel) Islands, Chungsha Islands (Macclesfield Bank), and Tungsha (Pratas) Islands, as well as their surrounding waters, are all an inherent part of ROC territory and waters. Furthermore, the ROC enjoys all rights over these islands and their surrounding waters in accordance with international law. This is indisputable.

According to the Book of Han and History of the Later Han [official Chinese historiographies], all of the islands in the South China Sea were first discovered, named, and used in the first century BCE during the Western Han Dynasty. Thereafter, the governments and peoples of subsequent dynasties left behind a continuous record of their exercise of jurisdiction and activities. The Records of Quanzhou from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) state that China had formally incorporated all of the islands of the South China Sea into its maritime defense system—including patrols and other management measures—no later than the year 1721 during the early Qing Dynasty. The Unified World Map of the Great Qing Dynasty, published in 1767, the 32nd year of the reign of Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty, also includes in its dynastic territory the Wanli Changsha [萬里長沙] and Wanli Shitang [萬里石塘], now known respectively as the Shisha and Nansha Islands. Pursuant to modern international law, which evolved in 18th century Europe, a country that discovers and occupies a terra nullius [ownerless land], and makes a proper display of sovereignty, obtains territorial sovereignty over that land. No other parties concerned—which were all either our tributaries or Western colonies at that time—have evidence of jurisdiction as strong as the ROC's.

After the ROC was founded in 1912, our government also published maps of the South China Sea islands in both 1935 and 1947, reaffirming our sovereignty over those islands to the international community.

In 1938 and 1939, Japan illegally occupied the Tungsha, Shisha, and Nansha Islands. In December of 1943 as World War II was drawing to a close, the ROC, the United States, and the United Kingdom jointly issued the Cairo Declaration, demanding that Japan restore to the ROC territory it had stolen including Manchuria, Taiwan, and the Pescadores (Penghu). In July of 1945 the ROC, US and UK jointly issued the Potsdam Proclamation, which stipulated that "the terms of the Cairo Declaration shall be carried out." The Japanese Instrument of Surrender in September of 1945 also expressly states that Japan accepted the provisions of those two documents.

Currently, in official compilations of legal documents signed by heads of state or plenipotentiaries in countries around the world, the Cairo Declaration, Potsdam Proclamation, and the Japanese Instrument of Surrender are all linked together as a single unit; they are all included in Volume 3 of Treaties and Other International Agreements of the United States of America 1776-1949 published by the US Department of State in 1969, as well as the treaty series compiled by Japan's Foreign Affairs Ministry in 1948; the Japanese Instrument of Surrender is also included in the United States Statutes at Large and the United Nations Treaty Series. All of the aforementioned documents are legally binding.

Both the San Francisco Peace Treaty, which became effective on April 28, 1952, and the Treaty of Peace between the ROC and Japan, which became effective on August 5 that same year, stipulated that Japan renounced all right, title, and claim to the Nansha and Shisha Islands. The Exchange of Notes No. 1 of the Treaty of Peace between the ROC and Japan also stipulated that "the terms of the present Treaty shall, in respect of the ROC, be applicable to all the territories which are now, or which may hereafter be, under the control of its Government." Taiwan, Penghu, and the Nansha and Shisha Islands were all under ROC government control at that time.

The sum of all of these arguments is that when Japan relinquished its claim to territory, sovereignty over that territory reverted to the ROC.

Simply stated, the ROC was the first country to discover, name, and use all the islands of the South China Sea, and the first country to include them in our territory and jurisdiction. The Nansha and Shisha Islands were then recovered after World War II as stipulated by the Cairo Declaration, the Potsdam Proclamation, and the Japanese Instrument of Surrender. Recovery of those island groups was then reaffirmed in the Treaty of Peace between the ROC and Japan, as duly authorized by the San Francisco Peace Treaty. It is thus indisputable that the islands of the South China Sea are inherently the sovereign territory of the ROC.

I also want to take this opportunity to address issues surrounding the U-shaped line that appears on the Location Map of the South China Sea Islands issued by the ROC Ministry of the Interior on December 1, 1947. At that time, international practice provided a country with three nautical miles of territorial waters and a 12 nautical mile limit on customs enforcement and control of smuggling activities; collectively recognized maritime entitlements hadn't even been developed.

Back then, international law had no consistent norms that addressed evolving maritime claims, or the scope of maritime territory that coastal states could claim. That's why opinions diverge whenever various parties discuss applying international law to resolve South China Sea disputes. International practices were gradually unified only after 1958 when the United Nations convened its first Conference on the Law of the Sea and passed four treaties.

Given that we have been operating there for 2,000 years, topics involving the South China Sea should be handled according to the principles of intertemporal law. That means whenever international disputes occur, the applicable international law should be contemporaneous law—the law in effect when a claim was asserted, not the law in effect when the dispute arose. That methodology fits the actual circumstances much better.

Our Statement on the South China Sea, issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on July 7 last year, gives a clear presentation about safeguarding our country's sovereignty and interests in the South China Sea. You can find that statement on the ministry's website, and I hope you will all refer to and apply it often.

III. Replacing unilateral arbitration with multilateral mediation to address sovereignty disputes over islands in the South China Sea
Over the past few years, disputes over sovereignty and maritime interests involving the islands of the South China Sea have become increasingly complex. Within the Nansha Islands, the number of features controlled by various countries includes 33 by Vietnam, 10 by mainland China, nine by the Philippines, five by Malaysia, and two by the ROC. Our position on South China Sea issues has been consistent, calling on all concerned parties to abide by international law and safeguard freedom of navigation and overflight. We do not like to see, nor do we anticipate, possible regional conflict.

Although concerned parties currently advocate resolving disputes via third-party adjudication methods like arbitration or judicial litigation, it is extremely difficult to reach a judgement that satisfies both disputants.

Cases previously submitted to the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague include the Island of Palmas Case (1928) pitting the US vs. The Netherlands and the Pedra Branca dispute (2008) between Singapore and Malaysia. So thus far, few cases have been submitted to third-party adjudication, and both parties were willing to accept the judgement. That's because Singapore and Malaysia were both previously British colonies, so they both had that kind of tradition.

Other sovereignty disputes in East Asia include the Northern Territories (Kuril Islands) dispute between Japan and Russia, and the Japan-Korea dispute over the Takeshima/Dokdo island chain [often referred to in English as the "Liancourt Rocks"]. Japan is also involved in a dispute with both sides of the Taiwan Strait over the Diaoyutai Islands. Initially, Japan proposed that Russia and Korea submit their disputes to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), but was refused. We also expressed to Japan our willingness to submit the Diaoyutai issue to the ICJ, but they refused. So different parties always have different opinions. But the mainland has never gone to court with the other country, and all issues are handled through negotiations. So if you want to resolve disputes through third-party adjudication, it won't be easy. I have proposed peace initiatives for both the East China and South China Seas, both of which emphasize resolving disputes through negotiations.

Taking the East China Sea as an example, on September 7, 2012 when I visited Pengjia Islet, I proposed the East China Sea Peace Initiative Implementation Guidelines. I explained a bit more about replacing confrontation with dialogue and shelving controversy for consultation, and proposed the concept of Taiwan, Japan, and the mainland moving from three parallel tracks of bilateral dialogue to a single trilateral negotiation process. These are concrete steps in putting the East China Sea Peace Initiative into practice, jointly investigating possibilities for the cooperative exploitation of East China Sea resources. And that kind of mediation model can also apply to all the concerned parties in the South China Sea. While judicial arbitration procedures are in progress, bilateral and multilateral negotiations and mediation procedures should also continue, protecting both regional peace and the rights and interests of all parties concerned.

What Taiwan has been able to do with Japan over the past few years in the East China Sea and with the Philippines in the South China Sea was accomplished through peaceful methods like dialogue and negotiations. Those accomplishments can serve as a point of reference for all concerned parties in resolving disputes in the South China Sea.

IV. Promoting negotiations via the South China Sea Peace Initiative and Roadmap, reaffirming sovereignty over Taiping Island and its status as an island
We abide by the East China Sea Peace Initiative, which calls on all concerned countries to use peaceful methods based on international law to resolve East China Sea conflicts. In 2013 we signed the Taiwan-Japan Fisheries Agreement, resolving a fisheries dispute that lasted 40 years. And on the 9th of this month, on the eve of the third anniversary of that agreement, I visited Pengjia Islet and unveiled a monument dedicated to "Peace in the East China Sea, Our National Territory Secure Forever." I also delivered remarks, reiterating the ROC government's dedication and determination to spare no effort in promoting regional peace.

Based on our successful experience in the East China Sea, on May 26 of last year we went on to propose the South China Sea Peace Initiative, calling on all concerned parties to resolve disputes through peaceful means via negotiations and dialogue. The Agreement Concerning the Facilitation of Cooperation on Law Enforcement in Fisheries Matters that we signed with the Philippines last year is a concrete example of putting the South China Sea Peace Initiative into practice.

In the latter part of November last year, a hearing was held at the PCA in The Hague, Holland , to address a South China Sea case filed by the Philippines. In that filing the Philippines alleged that the ROC's sovereign territory, Taiping Island, is not an island, but only a "rock" that has no fresh water or arable land, and that all supplies had to be imported. That case is extremely important for Taiwan—but we weren't even invited to participate. They never solicited our opinion. And if the PCA accepts that kind of false allegation as fact, Taiwan's rights and interests will be seriously impaired.

Beginning last year heads of our government agencies, scholars and experts from home and abroad, and members of the media made numerous trips to Taiping Island, and found evidence that clearly shows the international community that Taiping Island is, indeed, an island. Their investigations prove that Taiping Island has an abundance of fresh water, and fertile soil that can produce over 10 species of fruits and vegetables. Animals including poultry, sheep, and dogs can be raised there. Taiping Island also has hundreds of large tropical trees, as well as facilities such as a wharf, lighthouse, airplane runway, hospital, post office, and a Guanyin [Goddess of Mercy] temple. Taiping Island is a densely forested island teeming with life, with complete facilities to support everyday human habitation. That means it fully meets the requirements for an "island" under Article 121 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). It's definitely not some desolate rock. No country that attempts to refute these facts can diminish Taiping Island's status as an island, or impair the maritime rights it enjoys based on UNCLOS.

On January 28 of this year I myself visited Taiping Island in the Nansha Islands to express my appreciation to the personnel stationed there. While I was there, I clarified the island's legal status and proclaimed the ROC's sovereignty, and also solemnly called on people at home and abroad to give all due consideration to the fact that Taipei Island is an island—not a rock. I also proposed a South China Sea Peace Initiative Roadmap. That roadmap presents a feasible path to peace, calling for "cooperation, not conflict," "sharing, not monopolization," and "pragmatism, not intransigence," as well as "shelving disputes, comprehensive planning, and zonal development." And that roadmap made the international community sit up and take notice.

There have already been 425 related articles in the international media over the past three months. The PCA in The Hague is already well aware of our claim and has sent the relevant documents to the five Members of the Court. Those documents include transcripts of remarks I delivered on Taiping Island, statements and responses I provided at two international press conferences, and an amicus curiae brief initiated and filed by the Chinese (Taiwan) Society of International Law. All of these developments show that in the international community, our claim is finally receiving the due consideration it deserves.

After domestic and foreign journalists visited Taiping Island in person on March 23, as president of the ROC, I conducted an international press conference that included key domestic and foreign media outlets. I formally invited representatives or lawyers from the Philippine government to come to Taiping Island for an inspection. We also welcomed the members of the arbitral tribunal to make a personal site visit to Taiping Island so they can see the island's ecosystem with their own eyes. Then they will understand that this island can definitely sustain human habitation and economic life of its own.

At this point, the PCA has already received our amicus brief. I also hope we'll be able to take the next step and submit an appeal requesting an oral hearing. If we need to present photographs or dispatch experts, that's not a problem. If they want to debate, we welcome that, too. Although we advocate resolving issues through negotiations, we also won't exclude appearing before the tribunal to clarify the truth, and fight for the rights to which we are entitled.

Here, as president of the ROC, I want to make a special and solemn appeal to the Permanent Court of Arbitration: I hope the tribunal's forthcoming ruling will not involve Taiping Island's legal status, and cannot downgrade Taiping Island from an "island" to a "rock." Once again, I sincerely appeal to the tribunal: Do not ignore the facts, and the provisions of Article 121 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and come out with the wrong arbitral ruling, depriving the ROC's Taiping Island of the maritime rights that it duly enjoys.

V. Using Taiping Island to promote peace, implementing the South China Sea Peace Initiative
When operating in the South China Sea, the ROC's policy is to safeguard sovereignty, shelve disputes, pursue peace and reciprocity, and promote joint exploration and development, as well as the peaceful use of Taiping Island. All of our activities are in compliance with international standards such as UNCLOS, do not raise regional tensions, and are in line with the US appeal for "three halts" [to halt further land reclamation, construction of new facilities, or militarization on disputed features].

Actually, our Coast Guard Administration (CGA) replaced our Marine Corps back in the year 2000, taking over the defense function on Taiping Island, and showing through concrete action our determination to oppose militarization in the South China Sea.

And on my personal visit to the island, I also stated that our starting point in putting the South China Sea Peace Initiative into practice will be to devote our efforts to making Taiping an island of peace for rescue operations, and an ecologically sound and low-carbon island.

To create that ecologically sound island, the Ministry of the Interior and the Council of Agriculture conducted a water quality and agricultural environment survey project. A survey of indigenous vegetation by the CGA is now in progress. Those efforts will help us understand more about Taiping Island's natural resources and protect the natural environment. Way back in 1978 the World Meteorological Organization set up an observation post on Taiping Island for its Winter Monsoon Experiment, part of a large-scale global weather project. Thereafter, we upgraded the island's scientific research equipment to observe earthquakes and marine and meteorological conditions, conduct ecosystem surveys, and monitor environmental quality. We also promoted setting up a Nansha International Research Station on Taiping Island, and a transnational scientific research project using ecological research to develop peaceful uses and international cooperation.

To create a low-carbon island, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the CGA cooperated on a water and electricity supply and management project, installing additional solar power generation equipment. That led to raising our original goal, and getting solar power to supply 40% of demand, making Taiping Island a model of energy conservation and reducing carbon emissions.

Now I'd like to talk about our efforts to create an island for peace and rescue operations. On December 12 of last year renovations were completed and the wharf went into service. It's now 318 meters long and 20 meters wide, can accommodate 3,000-ton vessels, and has a newly-built lighthouse. Those structures will shorten the time required to transport supplies, ensure safety of navigation in the seas surrounding the island, benefit humanitarian aid and the fisheries industry, and provide maritime navigation services. Renovation of the island's runway was also completed last November, so it can now accommodate C-130 transport planes. Weather information from marine and meteorological observation stations are being used to monitor natural disasters and contribute to early warning systems. We will also be upgrading medical equipment at Nansha Hospital and setting up a Nansha Emergency Relief Center in coordination with international medical organizations, turning the facilities on Taiping Island into a humanitarian aid center for the Nansha Islands region. Over the past decade or so, the Nansha Hospital has already provided those services, caring for more than 20 nationals from Myanmar, the Philippines, and mainland China.

We hope that these concrete actions show the international community that the ROC is fulfilling its international obligations, actively playing the role of peacemaker and provider of humanitarian aid. At the same time, we sincerely hope the concerned parties can establish coordination and cooperation mechanisms to address nontraditional security issues in the South China Sea such as environmental protection, marine science research, fighting maritime crime, humanitarian aid and disaster relief, so that the South China Sea can truly become a sea of peace and cooperation.

VI. Closing remarks
During your stay in Taiwan, in addition to contributing to peace in the Asia-Pacific Region through in-depth discussions on South China Sea issues and international maritime law, I hope that you will all take advantage of this opportunity to get to know the ROC a little better—experience Taiwan's stunning scenery, gourmet foods, and the warmth and hospitality of its people, leaving you with many beautiful memories of your trip to Taiwan.

Let me close by wishing you all the best of health, and success in all your endeavors. And may Taiping Island remain our national territory, secure forever, and the South China Sea enjoy lasting peace.

Thank you very much!

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