News / Asia

Taiwan Considers Eco-Tourism to Assert Territorial Claims

Ralph Jennings

Taiwan has been a relatively quiet player in the tense dispute about territorial claims in the South China Sea. That could change with an unusual initiative that Taipei says is a peaceful approach to asserting its sovereignty in a body of water where China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei also have claims. The plan involves tourists, rare turtles and a remote atoll.

Marine National Park headquarters in Dongsha atoll,Taiwan
Marine National Park headquarters in Dongsha atoll (Photo courtesy Taiwan Marine National Park Headquarters)


Field trip


In August, the Taiwan government took 21 university students from Kaohsiung to the tropical Dongsha atoll, some 460 kilometers from Taiwan. Their trip was aimed at building local awareness of the atoll, but it coincided with a rare discovery of a sea turtle colony that uses the atoll to lay eggs.

Officials at the National Marine Park say the return of the turtles is a sign that the ocean ecosystem may be stabilizing despite over-fishing in recent years. There are now plans for a new marine research center.

Lin Ling, deputy director with the Marine National Park Headquarters in south Taiwan, says the public could expect more surprises from ecological research.

She says the atoll’s resources are unusual, and that while it is not yet clear what they mean for the whole South China Sea, they are definitely unique. She believes there are species that have not yet been discovered, which will attract researchers from nearby countries.

Aerial vidw of Dongsha atoll
Aerial view of Dongsha atoll (Photo courtesy Taiwan Marine National Park headquarters)

South China Sea

Taiwan’s effort is hardly just environmental. Taiwan and China both claim nearly the entire 3.5 million square kilometer South China Sea as their own.

The basis of Taiwan's claim to the South China Sea mirrors that of China. Both say the Chinese navy was active there in the Han and Ming Dynasties. They say Chinese fishermen and traders also worked the region throughout the centuries. The Republic of China, which is the legal name of Taiwan's government, also claims today's China in its constitution. But because the South China Sea is actively disputed by several countries, Taiwan is taking special measures to promote its maritime claims in the region.

Other countries in the region also claim parts of the sea, which is rich in marine life and believed to hold vast undersea oil and natural gas reserves.

The competing claims have sparked naval clashes in other parts of the sea, including deadly ones in 1974 and 1988.  China, Vietnam and the Philippines have been most publicly in conflict over the region. But Taiwan’s 200 coast guard patrolmen occasionally chase foreign fishing vessels away from the Dongsha atoll, which lies near key sea shipping lanes. Taiwan also holds the largest island in the Spratly chain, one of the most hotly disputed parts of the South China Sea.

Chinese claim

However, Taiwan cannot assert itself like other governments in the region.

China claims not only the disputed ocean area but also Taiwan itself, and Beijing forbids its diplomatic allies throughout Asia from talking formally with officials in Taipei.

Taipei is trying to get along better with China after six decades of political hostilities, and is seeking a mutually beneficial trading relationship. So Taiwan sees its effort to preserve the marine environment, and with it the region’s fisheries, as an expression of its soft power.

Coast guard deputy minister Cheng Chang-hsiung explains.

He says ecological preservation is a commonly respected goal around the world, so other governments will support what Taiwan’s government is doing on the atoll as something that is good for the planet. He says numerous scholars have done research and ecological protection work on Dongsha and their reports can easily be distributed to all parties. He adds that Taiwan’s government wants a peaceful solution to any disputes rather than armed clashes.

In July, Beijing and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations agreed to South China Sea confidence-building guidelines after nine years of talks, but Taiwan was not invited to participate, prompting a protest from Taipei.

New fish and coral at Dongsha atoll
New fish and coral at Dogsha atoll (Photo courtesy Taiwan Marine National Park headquarters)

Tourism initiative


Shut out of the regional talks, Taiwan plans to open the Dongsha atoll to more visitors. Only government employees and researchers with special permits currently visit. But once it opens, ferries and flights would take tourists from Taiwan, including foreign nationals. The coast guard took two groups of university students in August and plans to offer more expeditions next year.

Fang Hsueh-wen, an R.O.C. Military Academy undergraduate who visited Dongsha, says there is no doubt in his mind who owns it.

He says a lot of countries want to use the atoll but it is clearly controlled by Taiwan’s government, the Republic of China. He believes the group of students from 16 universities will study it, tour it and in the process understand that it belongs to their government, rather than to another claimant.

Although tourist visits may bolster Taiwan's territorial claims, they could also add to stresses on the fragile local ecosystem.  The flat atoll is dominated by white sand beaches, a grassy lagoon and coast guard facilities that have little fresh water.

There is no hotel nor even a convenience store. Lin with the National Park says there is also no timeline yet for opening it to regular tourists.

She says opening Dongsha to the public may be tough, because ferries would charge high fares while food and fresh water are hard to get because of the islet’s small size.   She says food is brought in by boat and a desalination plant on the atoll generates fresh water for government workers stationed there, but not enough for the public.

You May Like

FIFA Indictments Put Gold Cup Tournament Under Cloud

Experts say US indictments could lead to charges of other world soccer officials, and lead to major shakeup in sport's governance More

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

At a recent even in Seoul, border communities promoted benefits of increased cooperation and North Korean defectors shared stories of life since the war More

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows to Fight IS 'Until They Are Killed or We Die'

In wide-ranging interview with VOA Persian service reporter, Fuad Masum describes conflict as new type of fight that will take time to win More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs