Taiwan-Japanese Relations and a Rock!

By Jerome A. Cohen

 Aerial view of Okinotorishima, Japan. (source:  国土交通省関東地方整備局 , Japan)

Aerial view of Okinotorishima, Japan. (source: 国土交通省関東地方整備局, Japan)

Taiwan and Japan, despite the absence of formal diplomatic relations, have just signed another agreement and four MoUs on commercial and various matters, in the context of closer ties since President Tsai Ing-wen took office in Taiwan in 2016. I wonder what is going on in the quiet negotiations between Taiwan and Japan over the more sensitive Japanese claim that Okinitorishima is entitled to an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles and therefore Japan can restrict Taiwan fishermen from large and rich areas.

The 2016 Philippine arbitration award against China could be invoked by Taiwan in support of its opposition to the EEZ claim but it may be impolitic for Taiwan to do so in light of its need for Japan’s support in other matters (additionally, the arbitration award is not legally binding on Taiwan since Taiwan was not allowed to be a party to the arbitration proceeding, and Taiwan has therefore rejected the arbitration award).

Japan and Taiwan will probably try to work out a compromise on this issue before the 2020 presidential election in Taiwan in light of a possible KMT return to power that would oust Tsai’s DPP administration. The KMT administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (2008-16) was openly hostile to Japan on this fishing rights issue. The EEZ claim, giving Japan control over the resources of a huge sea area, has implications that go far beyond fish and is based on tiny islands not much larger than a king-size bed!

Provisional Agreement between Holy See and China on the appointment of bishops

Jerome A. Cohen

Today's English language announcement—simple but fascinating in its nuances—seems to be on the track that many observers have envisaged. It is designed to minimize the concerns of both Taiwan and Cardinal Zen and to give Beijing a continuing incentive to do better. If implementation disappoints the Vatican, it can, without significant embarrassment, not move on to a more conclusive agreement. We should scrutinize the Chinese text.

One of my favorite Chinese phrases is "Xuyao yige guocheng" (Everything requires a process), which in this case can certainly be rendered as "Rome wasn't built in a day".

China, Vatican and Taiwan

By Jerome A. Cohen

The Vatican is reportedly discussing an agreement with China on the status of China's Catholic Church and appointment of bishops. If an agreement is concluded, would that indicate the Vatican’s severance of its diplomatic ties with Taiwan?

Every one of Taiwan’s remaining formal diplomatic relationships has its distinctive features, but the Vatican’s is the most special, of course. I assume that ROC diplomats are working hard to separate a Vatican-PRC agreement on “only religion” from other matters.

The ROC on Taiwan, of course, has a huge amount of experience on how a government, by necessity, often has to make agreements on “cultural and economic” matters with governments with which it does not maintain formal diplomatic relations, and how such agreements can often be used as a cover for political, legal and other contacts as well. We should not forget that the PRC, for the first three decades of its existence until “normalization” of its relations with the U.S. in 1979 and especially in the ‘70s, broadened and strengthened its relations with some other governments despite the absence of formal diplomatic relations. Perhaps the Vatican’s second step beyond the current one will be to establish a special type of “liaison office” (lianluo chu) in Beijing, adopting a religious variation of the American office established in Beijing in 1973, six years before “normalization”! International law is rich in flexible examples, and the Vatican has made many unusual arrangements with various states.

I got a kick out of the ROC representative in Rome’s saying that it maintains a “smooth flow of information” with the Vatican. Was this supposed to be illustrated by the Vatican representative in Taiwan’s refusal to comment when asked questions by the local media?

Questions for Taiwan and the world at the decline of formal diplomatic relations

By Jerome Cohen

Last week Taiwan lost diplomatic relations with El Salvador, a long-time diplomatic ally of the Republic of China. Here is an interesting report on the statement of the President’s spokesperson in Taiwan openly recognizing that the end of the ROC’s formal diplomatic relations may be approaching. 

This will be an enormous challenge not only to the ROC but also to all those countries that wish to continue to have de facto relations with it, starting, of course, with the United States. Will more of their current policies and practices—for example, continuing resort to the embassy-like American Institute in Taiwan—suffice? How many countries will be willing to maintain this substitute for normal diplomatic relations once Beijing starts to apply the kinds of pressures on them that it has been applying on Taiwan, its remaining diplomatic allies and even the airlines and hotels that acknowledged Taiwan’s independent existence?

What imaginative strategies and tactics can the ROC employ to improve its situation and maintain and even strengthen its ties to the world in multilateral and bilateral contexts? Will it be possible to further develop the role of “unofficial” de facto diplomatic missions?

Are we on the brink of witnessing some attempted modification of the existing international system? Will some dangerous new formula emerge that may precipitate the cross-strait crisis that has long been postponed but that is gradually developing? An open establishment of a “Republic of Taiwan” might lead to war and might fizzle if not recognized by important states. What if Taiwan seeks to become a UN trusteeship or a U.S. territory, courses that have always been regarded as beyond the pale? Beijing may be stimulating radical thoughts on the part of those concerned to preserve what is usually referred to as “Taiwan’s vibrant democracy”.

Taiwan’s peaceful use of Taiping Island highlights China’s militarization in South China Sea

By Jerome A. Cohen

Here is a very good essay by Steven Myers of the NYTimes on “Island or Rock? Taiwan Defends Its Claim in South China Sea.” The draftsmen of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) could have spared the world a lot of confusion had they done a better job. Obviously Taiping Island is an island not only by the definition agreed on in UNCLOS but also in our common vernacular. But Article 121 of UNCLOS should have made it clearer that it deals with two types of islands—those entitled to a 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and those that are not. By calling the latter mere “rocks” the draftsmen set the stage for misunderstanding by the general public concerning the decision of the arbitral tribunal in the Philippines-China dispute since any observer can see that Taiping Island is an island in the commonly understood sense. As the tribunal concluded, however, Taiping Island is not an island entitled to an EEZ in accordance with the criteria stated in Article 121. If every small island were allowed an EEZ, it would produce chaos and conflicts in maritime affairs.

The best part about the Myers story is its emphasis on the peaceful uses to which Taiwan is putting its occupation of the island, in contrast to the militarization by China of features that it has occupied, some of which are not even properly subject to identification as islands at all because, in their natural state, they are not above water at high tide as Taiping Island is.

As Beijing began its artificial constructions on and militarization of these always submerged or low tide reefs and tiny islands – much tinier than Taiping Island, it had tried to assure the world that it was taking these actions largely for non-military purposes, thereby inspiring some of us to suggest that it demonstrate its peaceful intentions by allowing other states to share the use of these features and thereby avoid the crisis that Chinese military bases would inevitably induce. I also suggested that Taiwan open Taiping Island to a variety of international activities. Sadly, at this point, the multilateral option—always unlikely—now seems to be definitively off the charts, leaving the U.S. and China to search for other possible ways to resolve their emerging clash of interests.

An excellent ChinaFile Conversation: Is American Policy toward China Due for a ‘Reckoning’?

By Jerome A. Cohen

ChinaFile is usually very good value but this week’s Conversation on American policy toward China is of an especially high quality, and what topic is more important and timely, given the current state?

Perhaps enough ink has already been spilt in response to the brilliantly provocative essay by Kurt M. Campbell and Ely Ratner, and I found myself in agreement with all the commentators in the Conversation. Of course, I enthusiastically endorse what Liz Economy and Andy Nathan have written and also particularly benefited from the wise counsel of Lindsey Ford and Robert Daly, whose views I had not heard before. Yet a few additional remarks may be helpful in adding perspective to our dilemma. Therefore, I have chimed in with a comment (attached below with a number of links that might be useful as background).

Best wishes to my blog readers for the Year of the Dog. Hope Springs Eternal!

--------My comment in the ChinaFile Conversation--------

The problem of exaggerated expectations is not a new one for China policy. We only need to recall Franklin Roosevelt’s insistence that the Republic of China (R.O.C.) be accorded permanent membership in the U.N. Security Council. I wonder how much more complicated People’s Republic of China (P.R.C.) participation in the U.N. might have become if it had not been able to step into the R.O.C.’s Security Council shoes.

I think the hopes that motivated the U.S. effort to initiate a new China policy in the late ’60s and ’70s were more varied and complex than often recognized. There was realpolitik as well as wishful thinking. Have we given enough weight, for example, to the importance of obtaining P.R.C. support to counter the Soviet Union and to ease us out of Vietnam? Many China watchers had broader considerations than those in mind when advocating change, but I don’t recall many of my own colleagues saying that we would create China in our own image. I think, for example, of the memorandum that our Harvard-MIT group submitted to Nixon and Kissinger under the awning of the Kennedy Institute of Politics in November 1968 after many discussions. I also want to excavate my 1971 and 1976 Foreign Affairs articles to see the extent to which convergence was a stated goal. We plainly thought that rapprochement would improve international relations as well as the lives of the Chinese people.

We should not underestimate the extent to which the new policy did effect positive change, certainly in the lives of the Chinese people. Anyone who worked in China in the ’70s and even the ’80s can attest to the enormous progress in social and economic conditions that gradually resulted from the Open Policy. And, after a hiatus of several years following June 4, the renewed and wider engagement proved to be successful in many respects, including education and communication, and many Chinese elites today reflect the enormous progress that has been made, which is why Xi Jinping has to fight so hard against “Western values” and to repress and punish free expression.

We should keep in mind that Xi will eventually pass from the scene, at which time we can expect a reaction against his harsh rule. Many in China today are very unhappy about both the domestic oppression and many aspects of Xi’s foreign policy. The P.R.C.’s response to the Philippine arbitration was extremely controversial within expert circles, just as is the imminent enactment of the new “Supervisory Commission” system of arbitrary detention that will confirm what I call “The Inquisition with Chinese characteristics.”

I favor the measures suggested by so many of the commentators in this discussion to reinvigorate American policy in diplomatic, economic, and military terms and to revive our society. But in doing so we should not foster the misimpression that the P.R.C. will remain frozen in the Xi Jinping mold. I still like Joseph Nye’s admonition to “keep open the possibility of more benign outcomes.” Indeed, we need to do more to stimulate such possibilities by enhancing our competitiveness without, as the phrase goes, being confrontational. Given the situation in the South China Sea and in the Taiwan Strait, this will not be easy.

Profound implications of the ruling of Taiwan’s Constitutional Court in favor of same-sex marriage

 Supporters of same-sex marriage outside the Legislative Yuan in Taipei, Taiwan on the day of the Court decision. (CHIANG YING-YING/AP PHOTO)

Supporters of same-sex marriage outside the Legislative Yuan in Taipei, Taiwan on the day of the Court decision. (CHIANG YING-YING/AP PHOTO)

Taiwan’s Constitutional Court issued a groundbreaking decision yesterday in favor of same-sex marriage (the decision, its summary and an English press release prepared by the Court can be found here).

This decision will have profound implications in many respects, as others have recognized in various fora. Domestically in Taiwan it will spur the Executive and the Legislature to fulfill their constitutional responsibilities within the two-year time frame prescribed by the Court. The Constitutional Court has done this before in controversial situations. For example, as Margaret Lewis and I described in our 2013 book (CHALLENGE TO CHINA:HOW TAIWAN ABOLISHED ITS VERSION OF RE-EDUCATION THROUGH LABOR), the Court’s decisions played the critical role in ending the power of Taiwan’s police arbitrarily to imprison “hooligans” outside the regular judicial system. The Court stimulated the Executive and the Legislature to finally end an abuse similar to “laojiao” on the Mainland.

Yesterday's much more controversial decision reminds me of the landmark US Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education that in 1954 led a divided American society away from segregated schools and from other previously legal segregation practices. Yesterday's decision will generate backlash in Taiwan and elsewhere but it is a major step toward social progress everywhere.

Of course, the decision vividly highlights the sad contrast between Taiwan’s version of the rule of law, democracy and human rights and the Mainland’s, which has become ever more repressive. I think the decision’s positive impact on China as well as other countries far outweighs any modest additional, short-run, adverse impact on cross-strait relations. The Mainland’s strict censorship and manipulation of the media will not entirely prevent people from knowing about the decision and its meaning. Although many in the Mainland may not welcome the decision, China traditionally has been more open to same sex relations than more Christian-dominated countries, and the more educated classes will appreciate not only the wisdom and fairness of the decision on the merits but also the significance of the role of the judiciary in a genuine government under law country. It is a sobering fact that 68 years after its establishment the People’s Republic of China does not have a special constitutional court, does not permit its regular courts to apply constitutional protections and has failed to make significant use of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress for this purpose, even though the SCNPC is the institution authorized to apply the PRC constitution.

More broadly, this decision is a shot in the arm for Taiwan’s standing in the world, reminding people of the immense progress it has made, although a Chinese civilization, in instituting legal protection for human rights, judicial independence, separation of powers and all the other “Western values” openly condemned on the Mainland at present. Until now Taiwan’s establishment and implementation of the major international human rights covenants has been too little recognized abroad. Yet its national security and survival depend on the willingness of the United States, Japan and other democratic countries to continue to guarantee it protection against the increasing threat of military action by China, and that willingness will turn in large part on the extent to which those countries are aware of Taiwan’s accomplishments in achieving political freedoms.

What journalists can do in the case of Lee Ming-che

Here is an article that Yu-Jie Chen and I wrote on China’s secret detention since March 19 of Taiwan rights and democracy advocate Mr. Lee Ming-che. We argue that China’s handling of the case violates Mr. Lee’s human rights and a cross-strait agreement Beijing and Taipei signed in 2009. This incident has dealt a serious blow to the reliability and legitimacy of cross-strait institutions, which is not in Beijing’s interest.

 (Voice of America—Wikimedia Commons)

(Voice of America—Wikimedia Commons)

Where is Lee? Journalists, especially Taiwanese journalists, should keep asking questions about his fate, including in the press conferences of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office and the Foreign Ministry. In particular, we still don’t know whether he is detained under “residential surveillance at a designated place” (指定監視居住) or normal criminal detention (刑事拘留) (although as we pointed out in the article, the charge of “endangering national security” suggests that Chinese police may have invoked the former procedure).

If it’s criminal detention, the police can hold the suspect as long as 30 days, by which time they have to ask the approval of the procuratorate to formally arrest (逮捕) the suspect in order to keep him in custody. The prosecutors have up to 7 days to make their decision. The 37-day mark for Lee’s detention is April 25 (counting from March 19). If there is any formal arrest in Lee’s case, it should be made by April 25. At that point journalists should ask whether a formal arrest has been approved. If it has, where is Lee being held? Why? Can he see a lawyer? Will Taiwan officials have access to him?

If there is no formal arrest, Chinese spokesmen should be asked whether Lee is under “residential surveillance,” according to which the suspect can be held for up to six months in an undisclosed place (i.e., without the protections of a formal detention center) and has no access to the outside. Torture is commonplace in such circumstances.

A Conversation With Ma Ying-jeou

On March 1, Asia Society hosted a program where I had a 80-minute interview with my friend, Taiwan's former President Ma Ying-jeou. You can watch the program online now (link here).

His performance was impressive and obviously appreciated by an overflow audience with diverse views. As he contemplates an important and useful future, he should not neglect occasional gigs as a stand-up comedian!

Review of Taiwan's implementation of the two major UN human rights covenants

 Photo credit: Taiwan's Presidential Office

Photo credit: Taiwan's Presidential Office

The week January 15 to 20 was a busy week in Taiwan for our ten-member committee of international human rights specialists who were invited by the ROC Government to review its progress in implementing the two major UN human rights covenants.

This was the second such review, the first having been in 2013. It was an impressive exercise and culminated in a stimulating lunch with ROC President Ms. Ing-wen TSAI. After lunch my wife, Joan Lebold Cohen, who specializes in Asian art history and photography, my very able colleague, Ms. Yu-jie CHEN, who just received her doctorate in law from NYU, and I spent another hour exchanging ideas with President Tsai. The Concluding Observations and Recommendations of the Second Review Committee can be found here.

China’s seizure of underwater US drone and implications

China has returned the U.S. underwater drone (“unmanned underwater vehicle” or UUV) that it seized in the South China Sea last week. Plenty has been said about the illegality of China’s seizure, such as Julian Ku’s analysis here and that of James Kraska and Pete Pedrozo here. The PRC’s feeble and vague attempt to justify its action legally and the immediate move to return the drone certainly reflect its awareness of its poor legal position.

Politically China is using this incident to make the broader point of seeking to halt U.S. surveillance closer to China in what is plainly China’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), whether or not the PRC’s minority legal position prohibiting EEZ surveillance is acknowledged. The UUV incident is undoubtedly an effort to remind us of PRC objections to what is really “close in” surveillance.

Obviously, the attitude of the Trump administration will be crucial in determining whether the U.S. and China are headed toward military conflict. The U.S. government should devise plans for a more vigorous effort to negotiate detailed understandings about UUV and other surveillance activities. The PRC is likely to continue its resistance to such efforts unless it decides to follow Russia’s example by belatedly acceding to the majority rule permitting EEZ surveillance. Such a change in principle is unlikely in the foreseeable future because of the immediate importance to the PRC of insulating from American scrutiny the movements of its submarines in the South China Sea and because the tides there seem to be moving in China’s favor at the moment.

There is also the broader and even more dangerous problem America faces of continuing to protect Taiwan’s security as tensions mount in the Taiwan Strait. The Taiwan and South China Sea issues are related since they both involve the major question of the extent of the U.S. government’s continuing involvement in East Asia. Will there be any possibility of serious negotiations with Beijing on these matters in the near term? First, the U.S. government will have to prepare a strategy, one that will have the backing of a divided American people long tired of foreign wars but aware of East Asia’s importance to our security, of our accomplishments in the post-WW II era and of our values.

Donald Trump's telephone call with Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen

China plainly cannot be happy with this direct telephone contact between Taiwan’s President Tsai and President-elect Trump. Of course, Trump is not yet president, so the contact can be regarded as unofficial. Yet it suggests the possibility that the Trump administration may to some extent alter the long-standing policy of the U.S. Government of not maintaining official contact with the Taiwan government.

 Photo credit: Reuters, ABC News

Photo credit: Reuters, ABC News

Pressures have been building during the Obama era to abandon the strict US policy of not permitting the president and vice president of Taiwan to do more than transit the U.S. Indeed, I have advocated allowing them free access to every place in America except Washington, D.C., especially since the current rule restricts my freedoms of speech, information and association unnecessarily and undesirably. A similar rule has prevented the highest American officials from visiting Taiwan, again an inappropriate restriction, especially when the security of Taiwan will soon become a major issue in Sino-American relations once again.

Of course, administrations often change course in light of events. In April 2001 I recall watching George W. Bush, as part of what appeared to be a pugnacious stance toward China, declare on TV at the outset of his administration that he would do ”whatever it takes” to defend Taiwan. Once 9/11 occurred, his administration moved much closer to the People’s Republic and began to avoid provocative statements.

Peter Dutton's commentary on the significance of China’s response to the South China Sea arbitration award

Here is a brief comment worth reading on the PRC's response to the recent UNCLOS arbitration award. As Peter makes clear, the significance of China's response goes far beyond the specific dispute and raises the question of the reliability of any PRC international legal commitment including its economic pledges relating to One Belt One Road and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

One hopes that the PRC will begin to recover from its major blunder through the quiet discussions that have begun with the Philippines. Previous PRC leaders have shown the capacity to modify unwise attitudes toward international law. Whether the current leadership is up to the task is probably doubtful but may depend on the extent to which other influential nations seek to demonstrate the undesirable consequences of Beijing's stance.

One important topic that has not received enough attention is where Taiwan fits into the equation. Unlike the PRC, the ROC was eager to take part in the Philippine arbitration proceedings. The UNCLOS tribunal, well aware that its decision on the merits of the many sensitive issues at stake would infuriate Beijing, went out of its way to avoid further offending the PRC in its handling of Taiwan's efforts to be heard. Taiwan could not take part in the proceedings, and the tribunal even refused to allow Taiwan observer status at the hearings, which had been granted to several interested Southeast Asian states. Moreover, the tribunal's opinion referred to Taiwan in a way that would not offend Beijing (but was sure to offend Taiwan). To its credit, and perhaps in order to please Beijing, the tribunal, while not formally accepting the strong "friend of the court" brief submitted by Taiwan's leading NGO - the Chinese (Taiwan) Society of International Law, on whether Taiping island (Itu Aba), the largest of the Spratlys and the only one occupied by Taiwan, is entitled to an Economic Exclusive Zone, did make the brief available to the parties and surely considered it before disagreeing with Taiwan's (and Beijing's) position. Taiwan's new government is now struggling with the dilemmas of how to respond to the tribunal's decision, which offended it not only in substance but also in procedure.

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. 

“He said, Xi said”: the press conferences after the Xi-Ma meeting

 Photo by the Office of the President of Taiwan

Photo by the Office of the President of Taiwan

by Jerome Cohen

The much-anticipated meeting between China’s President Xi Jinping and Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou took place today. Here are the statements from Xi Jinping and Ma Ying-jeou and the subsequent remarks of Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s political opposition party’s leader and presidential candidate.

We will see more analysis by political commentators, especially those on Taiwan from the opposing KMT and the DPP camps. But one thing we can all agree upon is that the press conference of Zhang Zhijun, the head of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, gave the world a new example of “He said, Xi said.”

Seriously, I think Ma’s decision to do his own press conference rather than leave it to the very able Andrew Hsia, the head of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Office, which would have comported with Taiwan’s other efforts to demonstrate equality with the PRC, was a wise one, demonstrating how democratic leaders expose their conduct to the public. Xi’s consistent reluctance to face questions and the pathetic three questions staged for Zhang, together with the shielding of the Chinese people from Ma’s initial speech and then his press conference, undoubtedly left a vivid impression on many Chinese.

Taiwan’s position on the South China Sea disputes: an emerging subtle policy

At least while President Ma remains in office, Taiwan is not remaining passive either politically or diplomatically re the South China Sea (SCS). Nor should we assume that its choice – during Ma or afterward – is limited to the two extreme options of either endorsing Beijing’s questionable and vague claims or surrendering Taiwan’s claims to the SCS under the mantle of the Republic of China (ROC).

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A more subtle policy may be emerging, one that retains China’s territorial claims and the maritime boundaries that attach to them under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) while veering away from the 9-dash line and its controversial ambiguities that the Philippine UNCLOS arbitration tribunal may soon sweep away.

It is worth studying the statement issued October 31 by the ROC’s MOFA. The ROC seems to be clarifying its position, including some important differences with the Mainland. Although it rejects the Philippine UNCLOS arbitration tribunal’s jurisdiction as not binding upon it (after all, it has been excluded from the proceedings since it is excluded from UNCLOS), it repeatedly emphasizes that its claims are “based on UNCLOS”. It claims all the islands in dispute “as well as their surrounding waters”. It seems to be emphasizing “surrounding waters” as generally understood in international law (i.e., under UNCLOS) without invoking the 9-dash line’s most expansive view of what “surrounding waters” might mean if history were invoked to override UNCLOS. Moreover, it pointedly endorses freedom of navigation and overflight and implicitly fails to support the actions of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in converting mere reefs into islands by the manner in which it demonstrates that the feature that it has long occupied and developed, Itu Aba (unlike other contested features including Subi reef), is a real island that can be claimed as “territory” and has a 200-mile EEZ as well as a 12-mile territorial sea. Taiwan is trying to steer between Scylla and Charybdis.

One of Xi Jinping’s motives in meeting Ma may well be the desire to shore up virtually the only support the PRC thus far has elicited from other jurisdictions for its SCS claims. ROC defection from the 9-dash line, especially before the UNCLOS tribunal’s final decision, would leave the PRC without any respectable support for its Gargantuan appetite.