Territorial disputes: South China Sea (Part 8) [Post 123]

South China Sea and Taiwan

The Nansha (Spratly) Islands, Shisha (Paracel) Islands, Chungsha (Macclesfield Bank) Islands, and Tungsha (Pratas) Islands (together known as the South China Sea Islands) were first discovered, named, and used by the ancient Chinese, and incorporated into national territory and administered by imperial Chinese governments.

Whether from the perspective of history, geography, or international law, the South China Sea Islands and their surrounding waters are an inherent part of Taiwan’s and waters. Taiwan maintains all rights over them in accordance with international law. This is indisputable. Any claim to sovereignty over, or occupation of, these areas by other countries is illegal, irrespective of the reasons put forward or methods used, and the government recognizes no such claim or occupation.

The dashed or U-shaped line encapsulating much of the South China Sea appears on both Taiwanese and Chinese maps. Neither China nor Taiwan has officially clarified the meaning of the dashed line which could be seen as making a claim to the wide expanse of water enclosed within the dashed line or (merely) to the land features contained therein and to maritime zones made from them in accordance with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and international law.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) inherited its claims from the Republic of China (ROC) after the Chinese civil war. Thus, the ROC’s interpretation of its claims is relevant to the PRC’s claims. Notably, a more limited reading of the claims would not be inconsistent with China’s official position as set out in its 2009 and 2011 statements to the United Nations.Taiwan’s overtures have largely, however, been ignored. At the root of this is China’s “one-China” principle, which has cast a long shadow over Taiwan.

Taiwan’s government hopes to solve the South China Sea issues by multilateral diplomatic efforts. However, such an approach did not achieve Taiwan’s expected results. Due to its isolation from international arena, Taiwan is absent from any possible forums among the countries concerned and become the most likely one to be ignored from the South China Sea dispute.
At the same time, China’s leaders also appear to regard unification with Taiwan and control of disputed land and maritime territory as part of the China Dream. Chinese leaders have voiced, for example, a declining willingness to compromise on any sovereignty or territorial issue.

Position Paper on ROC South China Sea Policy. Republic of China (Taiwan) March 21, 2016 Link to the complete document
Tides of Change Link to the complete document

The Dispute in the South China Sea and Taiwan’s Approach Link to the complete document

Chinese Political and Military Thinking Regarding Taiwan and the East and South China Seas
Link to the complete document


This post is based on Jorge Emilio Núñez, Territorial Disputes and State Sovereignty. International Law and Politics (Routledge 2020).Previous published research monograph about territorial disputes and sovereignty by the author, Jorge Emilio Núñez, Sovereignty Conflicts and International Law and Politics: A Distributive Justice Issue London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2017.


South China Sea and Brunei.

Tuesday 21st July 2020

Dr Jorge Emilio Núñez

Twitter: @DrJorge_World


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