DPP victory would endanger cooperation to protect South China Sea sovereignty

By Zhang Wensheng Source:Global Times Published: 2015-12-10 21:38:01

Recently, Taiwanese authorities have started adopting proactive maneuvers in safeguarding the sovereignty of the South China Sea. They published a newly drafted map of the territory and soon Taiwanese leader Ma Ying-jeou revealed his attempt to fly to Taiping Island, the largest of the Nansha Islands, on December 12. These measures are in response to the escalated tensions of the South China Sea issue.

Not just the Philippines, Vietnam and other peripheral countries but also the US and Japan have made frequent provocations. Washington even warned Taiwan against acting rashly. This time Taiwan authorities did not follow the lead of the world's greatest power but chose to give the first and foremost priority to safeguarding the sovereignty of the South China Sea islands, which is indeed worthy of compliment.

The Chinese mainland and Taiwan have convergent interests in defending China's sovereignty over the South China Sea. China's traditional rights and interests in this maritime territory date back to the recovery of the exercise of sovereignty over the South China Sea islands since the end of WWII. It should be acknowledged that back then the Nanjing National Government, despite the lack of a powerful navy, made an enormous contribution.

Since 1949, the mainland and Taiwan have held the same position in safeguarding the sovereignty of the South China Sea despite the civil war ending up in the opposition across the Straits. This reflects that the two sides are highly consistent in guaranteeing China's territorial integrity and protecting national interests.

There is no denying that political disputes between the mainland and Taiwan remain, which has consequently exerted a negative influence upon the negotiations and cooperation between the two sides in safeguarding the rights and interests in the South China Sea. Nonetheless, they can unite with each other to defend against foreign intervention. They are teammates with firm ties of blood in this realm even if they have yet to achieve any official cooperation pact.

Taiwan's claim of Taiping Island helps relieve the pressure on the mainland, but Taiwan authorities should be sober-minded that it is an extremely arduous task for its military to independently safeguard the island located 6,000 nautical miles away. With the mainland as its staunch supporter, neighboring claimants in the South China Sea dare not play with fire. However, with growing political, economic and military power of the mainland, it is completely capable of safeguarding the sovereignty of the islands. That's why a Taiwan security official once said that it was unfit for Taiwan to take sides, a quite different tone from the usual attitude of Taiwan authorities who are used to following the White House steps closely.

Of course, Ma's scheduled landing at Taiping Island also releases a signal of bidding farewell to the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Incumbent Chairperson of the DPP Tsai Ing-wen takes rather an ambiguous attitude in the issue of the South China Sea, triggering wide qualms across Taiwan society.

If the DPP assumes power, as is likely in the next elections, it may yield to the US and Japan on the sovereignty of the South China Sea and the East China Sea in order to cater to the two powers, which will inevitably damage the cross-Straits relations and impair the dignity of the Taiwanese people.

A DPP victory in the elections next January will further embarrass Taiwan's stance in the South China Sea. The DPP will tightly cling to its concept of "Taiwan independence" and stage an open confrontation with the mainland. By then the fundamental tacit understanding in politics will fade away. Other claimants of islands in the South China Sea will surely impose more pressure by taking advantage of the cross-Straits contradictions to compel Taiwan to flinch in this connection. Assuming this happens, Taiping Island will no longer enjoy the peace and stability of its name, literally "Great Peace."

But Taiwan can choose to join hands with the mainland in safeguarding territorial sovereignty and integrity at any time. Whenever it needs help, the mainland will come with no strings attached.

The author is a research fellow at Taiwan Research Institute and the Collaborative Innovation Center for Peaceful Development of Cross-Straits Relations of Xiamen University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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