Outgoing Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou has said that Taiwanese-held Taiping Island in the disputed Spratly archipelago is an island, not a rock, as it has facilities and fertile land, according to Ming Pao.

Ma said at a banquet on Wednesday that he hoped to use this as evidence to dispute an argument lodged by the Philippines at the Netherlands’ Permanent Court of Arbitration. The Philippines say that the islands are rocks since they cannot sustain life.

Photo: HKFP/Apple Daily.

Ma said that it is important that the island not be categorised as a rock because it will mean the loss of exclusive economic zone waters totalling to 125,000 square nautical miles. An exclusive economic zone allows for exclusive rights in exploration and exploitation of marine resources, according to Storm Media.

Also named Itu Aba, the island is one of the largest in the Spratly island chain. Taiwan has held de-facto control for the last seven decades and recently completed a project for a lighthouse and a new port on the island.

Ma told the banquet that the island has the capacity to produce at least 65 tonnes of fresh water, and its fertile land can produce more than ten types of fruit. The island also has a post office and a hospital staffed with three doctors.

Ma Ying-jeou. Photo: Presidentialoffice via Flickr.

He has said during his visit that Taiwan has a policy of “three wants and three nots, which stand for: “cooperation, not disputes,” “sharing, not monopolising,” and “being practical, not allowing deadlocks.”

“Whether based on history, geography, or international law, the Spratly Islands, Paracel Islands, Zhongsha Islands, and Pratas Islands and the surrounding waters are the territory of the Republic of China,” he said.

‘Extremely unhelpful’ 

Currently the island chain is claimed by Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines and China. China has said that they lay claim to the island and assert that Taiwan is also part of China.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration is due to rule on the case brought by the Philippines this year.

Ma’s visit was opposed by the U.S., which said that it was “extremely unhelpful” in resolving conflicts over the waterway. Vietnam and China, which also lay claim on the disputed islands, also opposed the visit.

Ma will leave office in March. Taiwanese president-elect Tsai Ing-wen will succeed him. Tsai turned down an invitation to send a representative with Ma on the trip to the island.

Chantal Yuen

Chantal Yuen is a Hong Kong journalist interested in issues dealing with religion and immigration. She majored in German and minored in Middle Eastern studies at Princeton University.