TL;DR: How has Taiwan historically asserted sovereignty in the South China Sea?

Originally published on Project Taiwan.

The South China Sea is located in the Western Pacific and is surrounded by China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, and various other Southeast Asian states. Due to its geographical significance as a strategic passageway in the region, as well as its potential as an unexplored source of oil and natural gas, various states have competing claims of sovereignty over islands, islets, and reefs in the South China Sea. Conflicting territorial claims in the South China Sea are a potential source of conflict in the absence of preventive military or political measures, and the past three decades have witnessed ongoing disputes in the Paracel Islands, Macclesfield Bank, Takeshima Island, Diaoyutai Island, etc. that have garnered international attention and invited speculation as to whether a peaceful solution can be found to stabilize the region.

The Nine-Dash Line - China and Taiwan’s claim in the South China Sea

Taiwan and China respectively claim most of the South China Sea as their own, with claims demarcated by the nine-dash line overlapping with most other nations’ in the region. The nine-dash line was originally the eleven-dash line, first shown on a map published in 1947 by the Republic of China to justify its claims in the South China Sea. In present day, the nine-dash line is vaguely defined and is used by both the governments of the PRC and the ROC to legitimize their claims over territories in the area. The nine-dash line is viewed as a violation of international laws, due to its overlapping claims to exclusive economic zones that legally belong to other nations in Asia, as well as increasing Chinese expansion into the region. On Taiwan’s side, the nine-dash line claim has become more of a symbolic relic of the ROC rather than a concerted effort to exert sovereignty over most of the disputed territories.

The South China Sea Dispute - Antiquated Begonia Thinking

Taiwan's assertion of sovereignty over the nine-dashed line can be seen as a manifestation of the antiquated “Begonia” mentality. The Begonia mentality refers to the shape of the ROC territory since 1912 and prior to the end of the Civil War - resembling that of the leaves of a Begonia flower. Although Article 4 of the Constitution of the Republic of China stipulates that "the territory of the Republic of China shall not be altered in accordance with its sovereign boundaries except by resolution of the National Assembly," it does not specify the so-called sovereign boundaries. As such, there are various views on the actual territorial boundaries of the ROC, and some of them equate the ROC with the Akihata Islands, which also gives Taiwan a political and historical justification for the South China Sea issue. In retrospect, when we consider the intent of the framers and the context of the constitution at the time of its drafting, we can indeed infer that the sovereign territory included the territory of mainland China. Historically, it is also true that the Republic of China once entitled to and exerted control over the South China Sea Islands and their adjacent waters. Though, arguing for its continued use as historically accepted is clearly at odds with present-day facts.

At a time when tensions are on the rise in the South China Sea, Taiwan—under both the Ma and Tsai administrations—has taken the basic position of "sovereignty in our hands, shelving disputes, peace and reciprocity, and joint development" in an attempt to secure national interests while developing peacefully and stably with other countries in the South China Sea based on the principle of peace and reciprocity. In the face of the U.S.-Chinese power struggle, Taiwan must effectively uphold its basic constitutional position on its sovereign territory, and at the same time fight for the right to speak on the premise of respecting international law, so as not to gradually marginalize the issue of the South China Sea dispute at the expense of national interests.

Graphic Designer: Amy Lai

Writers: Yuning Liu, Aurora Chang

English version published on @tw.mixed

Original version published on

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