TAIPEI--Historic rivals China and Taiwan may be edging closer to a possible partnership over territorial rights in the South China Sea and the Spratly (Nansha) Islands, which is alarming other southeast Asian nations that have their own claims.
The speculation is that China and Taiwan will jointly develop deep sea resources with Taiping Island (Itu Aba Island) as the base. Taiping is effectively controlled by Taiwan.
“The seabed around Taiping Island has abundant reserves of oil and natural gas,” said Qiu Yi, an executive at CPC Corp. and a high-ranking lawmaker of Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang Party. “The merit would be great if a cross-strait joint development project is done.”
Even though Qiu said the proposal has not been endorsed by the government, sources said the administration of Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has already begun considering the possibility of bilateral cooperation.
Many participants from China and Taiwan at an academic conference held on Hainan Island in mid-July proposed joint projects, including resource exploration in the South China Sea, which made headlines in Taiwan’s media.
Taiping Island, the largest of the Spratly Islands, has a 1,200-meter runway on which transport aircraft can land and take off from.
Taiwan's Coast Guard Administration and the Ministry of National Defense plan to deploy anti-aircraft and mortar batteries there.
Competition between China, Philippines, Vietnam and other southeast Asian nations over the territorial rights of the South China Sea has grown intense.
China claims jurisdiction of the sea waters, called “the cow’s tongue” because of its unusual shape, which was designated in 1947 by the then Republic of China government.
The name Taiping was derived from the battleship that China sent in 1946 to recover the islands after Japan’s surrender.
Even though Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has confirmed sovereignty of the islands “belonging to the Republic of China, historically, geographically and from the point of international law,” the statement carries little weight internationally. Taiwan is not a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which has increasingly weighed in over China's growing assertiveness in the South China Sea.
Taiwan's feeling of powerlessness gives credibility to the view of impending cooperation between the two historic rivals.
It is also true that Taiwan is not confident about maintaining Taiping Island on its own.
Rumor has it that if China approves Taiwan’s participation in international organizations, a cooperation deal would be supported.
Still, if Beijing and Taipei make further progress on cooperation, Vietnam would take a hardline stance on its own claims to the Spratly Islands.
If the debate develops into the necessity of military cooperation between China and Taiwan, it could strengthen calls for caution over China’s strategic reintegration of Taiwan.
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