Scheduled to leave office in May, outgoing Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou seems determined to finish his own personal bucket list, taking a very controversial trip yesterday to a disputed island in the South China Sea.
Taiping Island (Itu Aba) is currently administered by Taiwan, though it is claimed also by China, Vietnam and the Philippines. It is the largest natural island in the Spratly archipelago (Nansha Islands), though thanks to China’s recent sprucing up, it now ranks fourth overall in size.
Beijing, of course, was unhappy with the trip, reiterating that, “China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands.”
However, even more noise was made about Ma’s trip from the US and Vietnam, with Washington going so far as to call the visit “extremely unhelpful.”
However, Ma dismissed all criticism in a speech calling for peaceful joint development in the South China Sea. “We all hope for peace, hope there is no conflict or war,” he said.
Currently, around 180 people live on Taiping, mostly coastguards. On Ma’s first visit to the island, he had only nice things to say about it.
“All this evidence fully demonstrates that Taiping Island is able to sustain human habitation and an economic life of its own,” he said. “Taiping Island is categorically not a rock, but an island.”
This distinction is actually critically important for Taiwan’s claim over the island after the Philippines recently initiated a case against Beijing in the Hague saying that the South China Sea island chains claimed by China are merely rocks — with no fresh water or arable soil — so no claim can be made in territorial waters beyond 12 nautical miles of them.
To further bolster its own claim, Reuters reports that Taiwan has recently finished a $100 million port upgrade and built a new lighthouse on Taiping.
Before he made his trip, Ma asked Taiwan’s president-elect Tsai Ing-wen to come along; however she declined to send along even a representative.
You can tag along on Ma’s wild trip with the BBC below:
[Images via Apple Daily]