Translated and compiled by Bing-sheng Lee

The Philippines has been arguing that Itu Aba Island in the South China Sea, also known as Taiping Island, is not qualified as an island but just a rock in arbitration hearings in international courts over recent years. Taiwan, however, has adopted an opposite stance over the issue and insists that Itu Aba Island is an island entitled to exclusive economic zones (EEZs).

To promote Taiwan’s stance over the issue internationally, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) has invited multiple international media outlets, including CNN, Al Jazeera, Wall Street Journal, AP, AFP, Reuters, Bloomberg, and Yomiuri Shimbun, to visit the island on March 23.

This is the first time the Taiwan government has invited foreign media to tour the island.

MOFA hopes that the visit will allow international communities to understand Taiwan’s position regarding the island by providing direct access to the island for the international media. The media group will stay on the island for approximately three hours and fly back to Taiwan in the afternoon.

In the evening, President Ma Ying-jeou will hold a press conference at Songshan Air Force Base to explain Taiwan’s stance over Itu Aba Island.

In recent months, Taiwan has made efforts to reassure its control over Itu Aba Island and is committed to proving it is a self-sustainable island.

On January 28, Ma visited the island with government officials and scholars to reaffirm Taiwan’s sovereignty over Itu Aba and that it is an island that can sustain residents permanently.

Itu Aba Island has a land area of 0.5 square kilometers and has consistently sustained more than 100 people. A functioning farm that produces a wide array of fruits and vegetables such as corn, sweet potato, mango and guava, can be found on the island. There is also a hospital that provides emergency medical treatment to the government employees stationed there and foreign fishermen operating around the area.

These features are closer to the definition of “island” in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. According to the law, a rock is “a landmass permanently above water but unable to sustain human habitation or economic life on its own,” while an island is “a landmass permanently above water that can sustain human habitation or economic life on its own.”

The importance of being recognized as an island is that a country that owns an island is entitled not only to a territorial sea and contiguous zone around the island, but also to exclusive EEZ and continental shelf rights. This can potentially bring huge financial profits for the country that controls the island.

Edited by Olivia Yang

“The Philippines’ Dubious Claims in South China Sea Arbitration” (The Diplomat)
“Taiwanese scholars argue Taiping Island a bonafide ‘island’” (Focus Taiwan)
United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea