Taiwan makes environmental push in disputed South China Sea
Eager not to be forgotten as a claimant in the South China Sea, as it was in July when China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations agreed to confidence-building guidelines, Taiwan plans to set up an ocean research center and share its findings with others.
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Yet self-ruled Taiwan does not want to be forgotten by the more aggressive claimants, as it was in July, when China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations agreed to South China Sea confidence-building guidelines. China, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines also claim all or parts of the South China Sea, including the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos and Taiwan’s ecological research zone.Skip to next paragraph
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“Ecological protection is a duty that the whole world respects,” says Coast Guard Deputy Minister Cheng Chang-hsiung. “In the face of disputes of course we hope to use soft power to express ourselves and let other countries understand our friendly intent. We hope to settle disputes peacefully and don’t want armed conflict.”
Naval clashes over control of the sea resulted in fatalities in 1974 and 1988. Taiwan’s Coast Guard wasn’t involved, but it occasionally chases off foreign fishing boats that come near the atoll.
Taiwan also occupies the largest Spratly isle, and Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou may travel to inspect it as early as this week, according to local media reports.
Other governments keen to understand the South China Sea may want to know through Taiwan’s research on the atoll that climate change has blanched the region’s coral, trash generated on land floats across the sea, and some marine species are growing scarce due to overfishing, Lin says.
So far, no other government has reacted publicly to Taiwan’s gambit, but none has fought it. Local officials expect a bigger splash when tourists, not just the occasional research team with special permission, start landing on the pincer-shaped atoll that was designated a national park in 2007.
The Coast Guard has begun to raise awareness of Dongsha by taking university students there during summer break. In August it took more than 40 students on two overnight trips and plans to extend the program next summer.
But further tourist development could hamper Taiwan’s preservation goal, some fear. The flat atoll, dominated by a grassy lagoon, supports a desalination plant to supply the Coast Guard with fresh water and an airport to handle weekly flights for government employees or researchers. There's no hotel or convenience store.
Ferry trips from Kaohsiung to the atoll – 460 kilometers away – take at least half a day and may cost more than the average traveler wants to pay, the park service says.
"Once it has been open just five years, the natural environment will collapse, so the government needs to emphasize conservation," says Huang Chih-chen, a National Kaohsiung Marine University ocean leisure management major who was invited to see the atoll last month.