Ma’s South China Sea Peace Ini­tia­tive

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

The United States cre­ated the Southeast Asia Treaty Or­ga­ni­za­tion (SEATO) in 1955 as an Asian ver­sion of the North At­lantic Treaty Or­ga­ni­za­tion ( NATO). Founded pri­mar­ily to block fur­ther Chi­nese Com­mu­nist gains in Southeast Asia, SEATO is gen­er­ally con­sid­ered a fail­ure. As a mat­ter of fact, Sir James Ca­ble, a diplo­mat and naval strate­gist, de­scribed the SEATO sired by the Manila Pact as “a fig leaf for the naked­ness of Amer­i­can pol­icy” in the Geneva Con­fer­ence of 1954. He called the Manila Pact “a zoo of pa­per tigers.”

John Foster Dulles, Pres­i­dent Dwight D. Eisen­hower’s sec­re­tary of state, was the prime mover be­hind SEATO, which was dis­banded in 1977. John Kerry, U.S. sec­re­tary of state, seems to be try­ing to re­vive a dif­fer­ent SEATO to con­tain the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China in pur­suance of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s “Pivot to Asia” pol­icy. Kerry con­sid­ers China’s ex­pan­sion of mil­i­tary set­ups in the South China Sea a threat to the peace and se­cu­rity of the re­gion, and is at­tempt­ing to rally be­hind the United States all other claimants of sovereignty over the four archipela­goes in the South China Sea to con­front the ris­ing eco­nomic and mil­i­tary power of Asia. One lat­est in­di­ca­tion of the new SEATO in the mak­ing is an ul­ti­ma­tum-like threat Sec­re­tary of De­fense Ash­ton Carter raised at the an­nual Shangrila Dia­logue in Sin­ga­pore last Satur­day to


tell the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China to end its land recla­ma­tion works in the South China Sea im­me­di­ately and for good.

Pres­i­dent Chi­ang Kai-shek’s Repub­lic of China, the arch­en­emy of Mao Ze­dong’s Peo­ple’s Repub­lic, was not in­vited to SEATO, though it had a Sino-U.S. Mu­tual De­fense Treaty to de­ter an in­va­sion of Tai­wan from the Chi­nese main­land. Pres­i­dent Ma has to stake out Tai­wan’s claim of sovereignty over the four South China Sea is­land groups of Pratas, Para­cel, Spratly, and Macclesfield Bank within the ninedashed U-shaped line.

‘Suc­cess­ful peacemaking


Ma pro­posed a South China Sea Peace Ini­tia­tive last Tues­day, call­ing upon all coun­tries and ter­ri­to­ries in the re­gion to ap­ply it in re­solv­ing dis­putes and de­vel­op­ing nat­u­ral re­sources. Drawing on its suc­cess­ful peacemaking ex­pe­ri­ences through the East China Sea Peace Ini­tia­tive Ma pro­claimed in 2012, Tai­wan pledges to take the lead to ad­vance peace and pros­per­ity in the South China Sea. Un­der the new ini­tia­tive, all par­ties are urged to ob­serve in­ter­na­tional law; ex­er­cise re­straint and re­frain from tak­ing any uni­lat­eral ac­tion; shelve sovereignty dis­putes and seek peace­ful set­tle­ments through dia­logue; and es­tab­lish co­or­di­na­tion and co­op­er­a­tion mech­a­nisms. Tai­wan’s suc­cess­ful peacemaking ex­pe­ri­ences are the eas­ing of the ten­sions sur­round­ing the Diaoyu­tai/Senkaku Is­lands and the sign­ing of a land­mark fish­eries agree­ment with Ja­pan in 2013.

By im­ple­ment­ing in­te­grated plan­ning and zonal devel­op­ment while set­ting aside sovereignty dis­putes, Pres­i­dent Ma be­lieves, an equally vi­able path can be es­tab­lished with the view of re­solv­ing South China Sea is­sues. He urged the claimants to en­ter into mul­ti­lat­eral dia­logue and con­sul­ta­tions in line with the prin­ci­ples of the U.N. Char­ter, U.N. Con­ven­tion on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and other rel­e­vant in­ter­na­tional laws so as to reach con­sen­sus on a code of con­duct as well as re­source man­age­ment and devel­op­ment. “The Repub­lic of China is will­ing to work with its part­ners to pur­sue rec­i­proc­ity and pro­mote joint progress, trans­form­ing the South China Sea into a sea of peace and co­op­er­a­tion,” the pres­i­dent vowed.


Wash­ing­ton “ap­pre­ci­ates” Ma’s new ini­tia­tive. Jeff Rathke, act­ing U.S. Depart­ment of State deputy spokesman, said: “We, of course, ap­pre­ci­ate Tai­wan’s call on claimants to ex­er­cise re­straint, to re­frain from uni­lat­eral ac­tions that could es­ca­late ten­sions and to re­spect in­ter­na­tional Law, as re­flected in the Law of the Sea Con­ven­tion.”

The Demo­cratic Pro­gres­sive Party, how­ever, doesn’t like Ma’s new ini­tia­tive. Joseph Wu, DPP sec­re­tary-gen­eral, ques­tioned it as a de­vise for col­lab­o­ra­tion with Bei­jing. Wu said Ma made Ja­pan sus­pect Taipei-Bei­jing col­lab­o­ra­tion when the East China Sea Peace Ini­tia­tive was ad­vo­cated; and so it stands to rea­son that the new Ma ini­tia­tive would arouse a sim­i­lar sus­pi­cion among all other claimant na­tions. Per­haps. But it isn’t log­i­cal to crit­i­cize Ma for chant­ing a “mere slo­gan” on that shaky ground of mak­ing the other claimant coun­tries sus­pi­cious.

Only Way to Re­tain Tai­wan’s


It is true that al­most all claimants will not re­spond to Ma’s call. If they re­strain them­selves, it’s out of the fear that the spat may get out of con­trol. In that sense, the South China Sea Peace Ini­tia­tive may be a slo­gan. But it is the only way for Tai­wan to re­tain its claim to Taip­ing Is­land or Itu Aba and the Pratas Is­lands where its Coast Guard sta­tions gar­risons. The Peo­ple’s Repub­lic and Viet­nam have fought over the Spratlys. If Hanoi at­tacks Taip­ing Is­land, can Tai­wan suc­cess­fully de­fend it? The Per­ma­nent Court of Ar­bi­tra­tion is hear­ing the Philip­pines ver­sus China case re­gard­ing the Spratly Is­lands. Tai­wan is not a sig­na­tory to the UNCLOS. It can­not ask for UNCLOS ar­bi­tra­tion. If Bei­jing’s U-shaped line claim, which it in­her­its from the Repub­lic of China, is re­jected, Tai­wan’s claim will be ig­nored.

The two archipela­goes were oc­cu­pied by the Im­pe­rial Ja­panese Navy in 1937. Itu Aba was re­named Na­gashima ( ) and used as a naval base, while a weather sur­vey sta­tion was set up on Pratas. Both were parts of what Ja­pan called Shin Nan Gunto (New South Is­lands, ) and placed un­der the ju­ris­dic­tion of the pre­fec­ture of Takao (Kaoh­si­ung,

of Ja­pan’s colo­nial Tai­wan. The New South Is­lands were re­stored to­gether with Tai­wan to the Repub­lic of China in ac­cor­dance with the Cairo Dec­la­ra­tion of 1943 af­ter the Sec­ond World War. The Navy of the Repub­lic of China oc­cu­pied all four archipela­goes in 1946 to make it part of its na­tional ter­ri­tory. The Peo­ple’s Repub­lic stakes out its claim to the New South Is­lands sim­ply be­cause it claims Tai­wan is one of its prov­inces.

More­over, Pres­i­dent Ma’s re­it­er­a­tion of the four is­land groups be­ing in­her­ent to the Repub­lic of China in his South China Sea Peace Ini­tia­tive has a salu­tary do­mes­tic ef­fect: the clar­i­fi­ca­tion of Tai­wan’s claims will make any sub­se­quent changes the DPP may make or threaten to in­tro­duce less desta­bi­liz­ing. Par­ris Chang, for­mer DPP rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Wash­ing­ton who also served as deputy sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil of Pres­i­dent Chen Shui-bian’s gov­ern­ment, in­sists that Tai­wan give up its claim to the four is­land groups af­ter a change of gov­ern­ment in 2016. Tsai Ing-wen, the stan­dard bearer of the op­po­si­tion party in next year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, who re­cently vis­ited Wash­ing­ton to ex­plain her “main­te­nance of the sta­tus quo” cross-strait pol­icy, had to go on the record right af­ter Ma’s procla­ma­tion of his new ini­tia­tive by stat­ing that the next DPP gov­ern­ment won’t give up the claim to Itu Aba.

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