Tsai Ing-wen’s Response to the South China Sea Arbitration Award on Itu Aba

  President Tsai Ing-wen yesterday addresses dignitaries and the crew of the frigate Dyi-huah at Zuoying naval base in Kaohsiung. Photo: ROC Ministry of National Defense

President Tsai Ing-wen yesterday addresses dignitaries and the crew of the frigate Dyi-huah at Zuoying naval base in Kaohsiung. Photo: ROC Ministry of National Defense

I think Tsai’s immediate response was disappointing. Why send a military vessel to protect Taiwan’s sovereignty over Itu Aba (Taipingdao) when the decision had nothing to do with sovereignty? Such uncharacteristic bluster (so different from Tsai’s response to Japan’s interference with Taiwan fishing within the preposterous Okinotori Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) claimed by Japan) may have played well at home but abroad it made Taiwan look like the PRC.

I think she should have announced her disappointment about the unfairness to Taiwan of having been excluded from an adequate hearing before the tribunal made its decision as well as about the decision on the merits (Although I liked the amicus brief submitted by the Chinese (Taiwan) Association of International Law, the tribunal’s arguments were more impressive, as I am about to publish in the Wall Street Journal today Beijing time.)  That would have made a better platform for then going on to say that, of course, Taiwan is prepared to take part in negotiations about how to resolve the problems in light of the new circumstances.

I don’t think the American people noticed Tsai’s actions at all. While the US Government can’t be happy with her initial response, the USG got what it wanted on this issue and surely understands Tsai’s felt need to deal with her public’s opinion.

The real challenge for Taiwan is whether to continue to press for an EEZ/Continental shelf for Itu Aba via some imaginative means. Being excluded from the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the UN, options are limited. Note that Ma offered ten suggestions re how to deal with the Itu Aba problem internally, but not one dealt with trying to reverse the decision or even what to do next externally in any way.