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

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As tumult in Middle East distracts Obama administration, efforts to shift American focus eastward appear threatened 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.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid