Asia Taiwan proposes South China Sea peace plan to avert ‘major conflict’

Taiwan proposes South China Sea peace plan to avert ‘major conflict’

Taiwan's President Ma ying-jeou
Taiwan’s President Ma ying-jeou

Taiwan has proposed a peace initiative to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea, which it says will reduce tensions that have put Beijing at odds with its neighbours and the US.

The South China Sea peace initiative, announced by the president, Ma Ying-jeou, called on claimants to temporarily shelve their disagreements to enable negotiations on sharing resources.

Ma’s plan is similar to a 2012 proposal for the East China Sea, which allowed Taiwan and Japan to jointly fish in the contested waters.

However, it appeared unlikely the new plan would be accepted by China, which claims most of the South China Sea and has rebuffed earlier attempts at multilateral negotiations.

Taiwan has so far played a marginal role in disputes between China and its neighbours in the South China Sea, through which US$5tn in shipping trade passes every year.

China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei all have overlapping claims in the South China Sea. On Monday China said it had lodged a complaint with the US over a spy plane that flew over parts of the disputed sea.

Ma’s remarks in a keynote speech at an international law conference in Taipei were the most public comments by Taiwan since the US, its biggest ally, raised concerns over the speed and breadth of China’s land reclamation in the area.

“We demand that freedom of navigation and overflight be respected in the South China Sea,” said Ma, who urged a peaceful resolution “before a major conflict breaks out”.

Taiwan usually maintains a low-key approach to such matters but has coastguard and military facilities in the area, including an airstrip and soon-to-be-completed port on Taiping Island, also known as Itu Abu, the largest natural land mass in the disputed Spratlys archipelago.

“I believe the mainland side understands the spirit and principle of our South China Sea peace initiative,” Taiwan’s foreign affairs minister, David Lin, said after Ma’s speech.

The rival claims by Taiwan and China go back to before they split in a civil war in 1949 after the defeated nationalists fled to the island from the communists.

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