April 9th 2016

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COVER STORY Euthanasia: A truly counter-cultural perspective from history

CANBERRA OBSERVED Harsh realities a bridge too far for this election

EDITORIAL Malcolm Turnbull's election strategy emerges

FAMILY AND SOCIETY SSCA sets mines to basic building blocks of society

DOMESTIC AND FAMILY VIOLENCE Never mind the issue: this is the agenda

ASIA-PACIFIC AFFAIRS Taiwan, China find rapport over South China Sea

ART AND CULTURE Beauty and the beholder

OPINION Labor's princeling class licks dole plate clean

SEX ABUSE ROYAL COMMISSION Truth takes a back seat: scapegoating Cardinal Pell

POLITICAL HISTORY The Labor Split spillover

MUSIC Minimalism more than the sum of Arvo Pärt

CINEMA More like home than utopia: Zootopia

BOOK REVIEW Retrieving meaning

BOOK REVIEW Midget submarine op

BOOK REVIEW A Jewish view of universal ethics


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Taiwan, China find rapport over South China Sea

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, April 9, 2016

The Republic of China on Taiwan (ROC) is a major player in the South China Sea imbroglio, although commentators who wish to curry favour with Beijing seldom mention this inconvenient fact; perhaps they just want to simplify a complicated situation.

The extent of the “nine dash line” claim.

The fact is we cannot understand the situation in the South China Sea without considering the role and claims of the Republic of China on Taiwan. The ROC occupies Taiping Island, one of the major islands in the South China Sea. According to ROC President Lee Teng-hui, speaking in 1999, “all water and islands are the Republic of China’s.” As always, Taiwan’s lack of official diplomatic recognition by all but a handful of small nations complicates matters.

The ROC and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) co-operate at times because their claims are almost identical. The famous “nine dash line” by which Beijing defines its territorial ambitions in the South China Sea was promulgated by the Republic of China in 1947, when the Republic of China government, led by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, nominally governed all China. The “nine dash line”, originally an “11 dash line,” was defined by the ROC government in a map issued in 1947. That, in turn, was derived from a 1935 map, with China’s claims in the South China Sea defined by the “Land and Water Maps Inspection Committee”.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) led by Chairman Mao Zedong did not officially become the government of China until October 1, 1949, when Mao announced from the Tiananmen Gate in Beijing “zhong guo jian chi lai” – “China has stood up.” By this time, the rival claimant for the title “government of all China”, the regime of Chiang Kai-shek, supported by the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) had decamped to Taipei in northern Taiwan.

Taipei was the “temporary” capital of China. For a man and party accustomed to governing the world’s most populous nation, Taipei must have seemed what it was: a provincial backwater only reluctantly joined by politics to the Chinese mainland. The 2-28 Incident in 1947, when a confrontation with a middle-aged cigarette seller spiraled out of control, exacerbated popular ill feeling towards Chiang and the Kuomintang (KMT). Some 20,000 to 30,000 people died in the ensuing crackdown, mostly native Taiwanese opposed to KMT rule.

Although they were now domiciled in Taipei and had no effective control over mainland China, neither Chiang nor his successors renounced their claim to be the government of all China, even though they controlled only Taiwan and other islands.

The claim that Chiang and the KMT would “recover the mainland” did not seem capable of fulfillment, as to do so would have required both Chiang and his forces to invade China or for there to be a revolution there that would once more bring Chiang and the KMT to power. Either way, the pledge to “recover the mainland” was taken seriously by Chiang’s followers; indeed, it was dangerous to say otherwise. This slogan, along with “Chiang tsung-tung, wan sui!” – “President Chiang, live ten thousand years!” were the most popular demonstrations of loyalty to the Chiang regime.

It would be wrong to assume that Taipei’s claims to the islands around Taiwan were not without foundation or consequence. Far from it. As we have seen, Beijing’s “nine dash line”, by which it justifies its claim to the entire South China Sea and its islands, descends directly from the map published by the Republic of China government in 1947. This map can only be described as vague. Beijing has not yet filled in the gaps between the dashes, among other things. Apart from some fairly minor changes, including extending the dashes to the east of Taiwan (not even in the South China Sea) Beijing has assumed the Republic of China claim almost in its entirety.

Why did this map evolve as it did?

In 1931, the Japanese Kwantung Army invaded Manchuria following the Mukden Incident. Mukden is now known by its Chinese name of Shenyang. Shenyang is the capital of Liaoning Province, one of the three provinces forming what the Chinese call “dong bei” (“the northeast”). We would call it Manchuria. The Mukden Incident was manufactured by the Japanese to justify its occupation of Manchuria. The Japanese considered that they had a claim to Manchuria. Port Arthur (now called Lushun) had a strategically important harbour. Control of Port Arthur virtually guaranteed the occupying power control of the East China Sea. Port Arthur had been a casus belli in the Russo-Japanese War (1904–05).

The Kwantung Army was beyond effective control of Tokyo and a virtual law unto itself. Despite strict orders to stay out of China, the Army manufactured the Marco Polo Bridge Incident and invaded China proper. The Marco Polo Bridge is on the outskirts of Beijing. This incident sparked the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–45).

Chiang Kai-shek’s resistance

Chiang and his KMT were considered, justifiably, to be much more effective than Mao’s communists in combating the Japanese. Chiang had the Yellow River dykes blown just north of Zhengzhou (capital of Henan Province), which inundated Japan’s crack mechanised divisions. The military result was achieved, at the cost of rendering 2 million people homeless and causing Chiang immense political damage. Henan Province is China’s breadbasket and most populous province, but is prone to disastrous famines. No one knows how many people died when the dykes were blown, but Chiang considered the flooding a price worth paying.

The result of Chiang’s efforts was to win him a place at the table when the Allies pondered the make-up of the post-World War II world. Chiang was awarded China “and its islands”, including Taiwan and the Pescadores (Penghu). The Japanese, Taiwan’s colonial rulers, were ousted from Taiwan and the surrounding islands. ROC Minister of the Interior Chen Wei-zen in December 2015 asserted the Republic of China’s sovereignty “from the perspective of history, geography or international law” over the Spratly (Nansha) Islands; the Paracel (Shisha) Islands; the Macclesfield Bank (Chungsha Islands); and the Pratas (Tungsha) Islands.

When ROC President Ma Ying-jeou, now in the last months of his administration, visited the Coast Guard garrison on Taiping Island for Chinese New Year, he said: “In response to decades of dispute regarding sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and maritime rights, we must state clearly that these islands were first discovered, named and used by the Chinese in the Western Han dynasty (in the first century BC). They were incorporated into the maritime defence system no later than 1721, in the Kangxi period of the Qing dynasty, with patrols and other maritime measures.

“After the ROC was founded in 1912, the government published maps of the South China Sea islands in 1935 and 1947, reaffirming to the international community ROC sovereignty over the islands and their surrounding waters.”

Taipei’s assertion of its sovereign rights over the South China Sea and its islands is buttressed by reference to over 2,000 years of history. This appeal to ancient history is typically Chinese. Overlapping claims by the ROC and the PRC are mutually reinforcing and rely on much the same evidence.

What’s in a name?

The jewel in Taiwan’s crown is Taiping Island in the Spratly (Nansha) Islands. Taiping Island is one of the largest islands in the South China Sea. The island is now garrisoned by ROC Coast Guard personnel. The previous ROC Marine Corps garrison was withdrawn in the interests of demilitarising the South China Sea islands, which is ROC policy.

The island, which is 0.51 kilometres square, is capable of sustaining life. It has potable water, fruit trees, coconut palms which are said to produce delicious fruit, plus chickens, goats and dogs. The Philippines is attempting to have Taiping Island redefined as a “rock”. “Islands” and “rocks” are strictly defined under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Under UNCLOS, a “rock” cannot sustain human habitation unsupported; an “island” can. An island has very different economic entitlements to a rock. The implications for sovereignty are also different.

Although Taiping Island is 1,600 kilometres from Taiwan, it is administered by the Ministry of the Interior, as it is considered to be an integral part of the ROC. The island’s airstrip can handle a C130 Hercules transport plane. The island’s wharf can accommodate 3,000-tonne ships. The island also has a lighthouse and a hospital, staffed by two doctors, who are on call for humanitarian assistance. Taiping Island has been continually garrisoned by ROC since 1956. Senior ROC officials say the ROC will not surrender Taiping Island without a fight.

Why, then, does the Republic of the Philippines challenge Taipei’s occupation of Taiping Island on grounds that seem lacking in substance? It is well known that the South China Sea is rich in marine resources, including fish. The South China Sea may also be rich in oil and gas, though this is yet to be proven. All powers in the region have strategic interests at stake.

China, the predatory power, is fishing in troubled waters. Those nations with interests in the region, including Australia, are toughening their responses to China’s manoeuvres, which must be countered on a case-by-case basis. China has strategic aims but the execution of those aims will depend on the circumstances at the time.

For powers that have interests in the region, Taiwan may be a useful ally in countering Beijing’s obvious intent to dominate the South China Sea and its resources, including the sea-lanes of communication which run through this body of water. Whoever controls the South China Sea will control much of the world’s trade.

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