Four Taiwanese fishing boats that landed on Taiping Island (Itu Aba) in the contested South China Sea on July 25 returned to Pingtung, southern Taiwan, this morning.

“It is the most honorable time in my 40-year maritime life,” said Chen Fu-sheng (陳富盛), captain of the Man Ji Sheng No. 8. After a 12-day journey, he returned to Taiwan with water, sand and coconuts collected on the island, saying he witnessed that “Itu Aba is an island instead of a rock" as recently claimed by an international court.

On July 20, the group of fishermen set off for Taiping Island, declaring Taiwan’s sovereignty and fishery rights in the region. Located 1,600 km from Taiwan’s southernmost point, Taiwan-controlled Taiping Island is the largest natural feature in the South China Sea.

On that same day, a group of legislators from the ruling and opposition parties flew to Taiping to reaffirm Taiwan’s sovereignty claims after a ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague one week earlier designated the island as a rock, angering Taipei.

The Fisheries Agency under the Council of Agriculture stated today that although it respected the goals of the fishermen to promote Taiwan's fishing rights around Taiping, some of them could nevertheless be punished for breaking the law.

Jheng Chun-jhong (鄭春忠) organized the fishermens' protest after the arbitration decision was announced on July 12. The court said that as the formation is not an island it therefore does not generate an exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

On July 24, a day before the vessels landed on Taiping, the Ministry of National Defense (MND) announced that since Taiping Island is a restricted military area, no one is permitted to enter the region without authorization by MND 45 days in advance.

The link to that announcement appears to have since been removed from the ministry's website.

Before the flotilla returned today, Lee Hung-Chun (李鴻鈞), a People First Party legislator, said the government should give its full support to the fishermen.

Lee said the government had not backed the fishermen because their action was in conflict with the U.S. position on the South China Sea dispute. He also suggested that President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) propose a clearer policy regarding disputed territories.

Sie Long-jie (謝龍介), a Kuomintang (KMT) councilor in Tainan, said the government had pandered to the U.S. Sie said Tsai’s "pro-U.S. policy" has harmed Taiwan’s fishing rights, and that it was not reasonable to withdraw criminal charges against members of the Sunflower Movement, who occupied the Legislative Yuan in March and April 2014, while pressuring patriotic fishermen.

First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole