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Taiwan Proposes Peace Plan for Disputed South China Sea

Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou speaks as he announces his South China Sea Peace Initiative during the 2015 ILA-ASIL Asia Pacific Research Forum in Taipei, Taiwan, May 26, 2015.

Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, in proposing a peace initiative to ease tensions in the South China Sea, called for cooperation among governments, including China, that claim all or parts of the ocean rich in oil, gas and fisheries.

Ma asked countries that claim the massive South China Sea to set aside sovereignty disputes and work together on resource exploration. His initiative suggests that no one nation take unilateral action that could inflame tensions.

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Taiwan and five other governments claim the 3.5 million-square-kilometer ocean that stretches from the Taiwan's south coast to Singapore. But territorial tensions have escalated in the past year as China reclaims land and builds military facilities at several remote islets to extend its reach.

Ma unveiled his plan at an Asia-Pacific research forum in Taipei.

“We emphasize that whereas sovereignty cannot be divided, resources can be shared, thereby replacing the sovereignty disputes with resources sharing," he said.

Taiwan’s plan, aimed at easing tensions, comes amid a series of escalations in recent weeks.

Beijing has filed a formal complaint with the United States after a U.S. spy plane flew over one islet last week. Chinese officials called it a “provocative act.”

U.S. officials, saying the surveillance flights are aimed at monitoring the ongoing construction on the islands, said the flights are operating in international airspace, which China does not control.

Japan has also grown more active as it vies with China over rights to another ocean, the East China Sea.

For the first time, Japan will send 40 troops to join a U.S.-Australian military exercise to be held in July. Tokyo has separately offered defense aid to Vietnam and the Philippines. Taiwan, China, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines claim all or parts of the South China Sea.

Similar proposal

Taiwan’s initiative proposes establishing systems to let various countries use the sea for humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and environmental protection. In 2012, Ma proposed a peace initiative for settling disputes in the East China Sea, parts of which are claimed by his government as well as China and Japan.

Joanna Lei, chief executive officer of the Chunghua 21st Century Think Tank in Taiwan, said President Ma’s peace initiative may remind others of the Taiwanese claim.

“It is the least a president can and should do. If everyone else discusses regional events and interests, at least you should state your claim. You have the equal claim as a country within the territory and should be consulted," Lei said.

Tuesday’s announcement also lets Ma’s Nationalist Party flex foreign policy muscle ahead of tough elections in January.

But the peace initiative is unlikely to garner a response outside Taiwan as the government has no formal diplomatic ties with the other maritime claimants. China claims sovereignty over Taiwan itself and has used its economic clout to ask that other countries avoid relations that would cast the island as a separate country.