Ma’s strat­egy to pro­mote Asian peace


One of the ob­jec­tives set by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama in his pro­posed “pivot to Asia” was im­proved in­te­gra­tion of the Asia-Pa­cific Re­gion. As ten­sions con­tinue to mount in the South China Sea, how­ever, that goal is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly un­likely.

Dur­ing my key­note speech at a re­cent con­fer­ence in Taipei I pro­posed a South China Sea Peace Ini­tia­tive — a prac­ti­cal, vi­able so­lu­tion to ad­dress th­ese ten­sions. The thrust of my pro­posal is to shift the fo­cus from set­tling ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes to jointly de­vel­op­ing re­sources. Although sovereignty can­not be di­vided, re­sources can still be shared.

This ap­proach has served Tai­wan well be­fore. Over the past seven years, my gov­ern­ment has han­dled its re­la­tions with main­land China ac­cord­ing to a sta­ble and prag­matic pol­icy aimed at main­tain­ing the sta­tus quo. This means no uni­fi­ca­tion, no in­de­pen­dence and no use of force.

This has al­lowed the main­land and Tai­wan to con­clude 21 agree­ments, cov­er­ing a wide range of top­ics from di­rect flights and eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion to mu­tual ju­di­cial as­sis­tance. It has also re­sulted in a level of peace and pros­per­ity that hasn’t been seen in the Tai­wan Strait in 66 years.

A sim­i­lar pro­posal was also con­struc­tive in the East China Sea, where ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes re­gard­ing the Diaoyu­tai Is­lands (which the Ja­panese call the Senkaku Is­lands) have lasted for more than four decades. In Septem­ber 2012, Ja­pan de­cided to “na­tion­al­ize” the is­lands, prompt­ing large anti-Ja­panese demon­stra­tions in more than 20 cities in main­land China. An­tic­i­pat­ing a po­ten­tial con­fronta­tion, in Au­gust 2012 I pro­posed the East China Sea Peace Ini­tia­tive, call­ing upon Ja­pan to join in shelv­ing our dis­putes, re­spect in­ter­na­tional law and ne­go­ti­ate the shar­ing of re­sources and their joint devel­op­ment.

Faced with rapidly es­ca­lat­ing ten- sions, Ja­pan re­sponded pos­i­tively to the pro­posed peace ini­tia­tive and quickly signed a fish­eries agree­ment with Tai­wan in April 2013. This oc­curred af­ter 16 rounds of talks over the pre­vi­ous 17 years had pro­duced noth­ing.

The 2013 agree­ment cov­ers 70,000 square kilo­me­ters of con­tested wa­ters, an area ap­prox­i­mately twice the size of Tai­wan, and leaves the sovereignty claims of both sides in­tact, cre­at­ing a win-win sit­u­a­tion. The East China Sea Peace Ini­tia­tive was praised by the U.S., the Euro­pean Union and Australia as an ef­fec­tive way to pro­mote re­gional peace.

Now with the South China Sea Peace Ini­tia­tive, I am again call­ing upon all par­ties to em­brace the spirit of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and co­op­er­a­tion and turn what seems like a mission im­pos­si­ble into the em­i­nently pos­si­ble.

In the South China Sea, Tai­wan has had per­son­nel sta­tioned on Taip­ing Is­land (also known as Itu Aba) since 1956. With a firm ba­sis in his­tory, geog­ra­phy and in­ter­na­tional law, Tai­wan also claims the Nan­sha (Spratly), Shisha (Para­cel), Chung­sha (Macclesfield Bank) and Tung­sha (Pratas) Is­lands and their sur­round­ing wa­ters as an in­her­ent part of the Repub­lic of China’s ter­ri­tory and wa­ters.

In or­der to find a peace­ful means to re­solve our South China Sea dis­putes, how­ever, I am now call­ing upon the other na­tions of the re­gion to agree to:

Ex­er­cise re­straint, safe­guard peace and sta­bil­ity and re­frain from tak­ing any uni­lat­eral ac­tion that might es­ca­late ten­sion.

Re­spect the prin­ci­ples and spirit of in­ter­na­tional law, in­clud­ing the Char­ter of the United Na­tions and the United Na­tions Con­ven­tion on the Law of the Sea, and to peace­fully set­tle dis­putes through dia­logue and jointly up­hold the free­dom and safety of nav­i­ga­tion and over­flight.

En­sure that all par­ties con­cerned par­tic­i­pate in mar­itime co­op­er­a­tion and shared codes of con­duct in or­der to en­hance peace and pros­per­ity.

Shelve sovereignty dis­putes and es­tab­lish a re­gional co­op­er­a­tion mech­a­nism for the devel­op­ment of re­sources un­der in­te­grated plan­ning.

Co­or­di­nate and co­op­er­ate on non­tra­di­tional se­cu­rity is­sues such as en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, sci­en­tific re­search, mar­itime crime fight­ing, hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance and dis­as­ter re­lief.

As an is­land, Tai­wan’s mar­itime se­cu­rity means na­tional se­cu­rity. I have there­fore made three peace pro­pos­als, first in the Tai­wan Strait, then in the East China Sea and now in the South China Sea, in the hope of fos­ter­ing re­gional peace and pros­per­ity. This strat­egy has worked twice be­fore and I hope it will work as well a third time. Tai­wan stands ready to en­gage in peace­ful dia­logue and to co­op­er­ate with the other claimants in the South China Sea.

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