NEW YORK–A U.S. scholar said Wednesday that Taiwan should do more, not less, with respect to Taiping Island in the disputed South China Sea, after President Ma Ying-jeou was criticized by the United States government for visiting Taiping on Thursday.
New York University professor Jerome Cohen also suggested that Taiwan open Taiping to other South China Sea claimants in the region for research purposes. ‘Dumb Mistake’ on the US Part: Scholar Cohen said he would like to “see Taiwan do more, not less, with respect to Taiping Island,” as it seeks to assert its sovereignty over the island and prove that it is a naturally formed island.
Speaking with the media on the sidelines of a seminar in New York on Taiwan’s Jan. 16 elections, Cohen also commented on the U.S.’ criticism of Ma’s visit to Taiping, saying it was a “dumb mistake” on the part of Washington.
“If they’re unhappy, at least kept quiet,” Cohen said.
His remarks came after the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) said Wednesday it was “disappointed” that President Ma Ying-jeou had decided to visit Taiping Island on Thursday.
“Such an action is extremely unhelpful and does not contribute to the peaceful resolution of disputes in the South China Sea,” said the AIT, which represents U.S. interests in Taiwan in the absence of bilateral diplomatic ties.
Mark Toner, deputy spokesman of the U.S. State Department, reiterated at a daily press briefing Wednesday that the U.S. was disappointed over Ma’s decision to visit Taiping.
Douglas Paal, former AIT director and currently vice president for studies at the U.S.-based think tank Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said there may have been other concerns behind the U.S. government’s statement of disappointment over Ma’s trip to Taiping. Maintaining Regional Peace In Taipei, Christine Hsueh, director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Department of North American Affairs, said Thursday that the Republic of China (Taiwan) has a consistent stance on maintaining regional peace, which is the same as that of the U.S.
As head of state and commander in chief, Ma has a legitimate right to visit Taiping to greet the R.O.C. Coast Guard personnel stationed there, ahead of the Chinese New Year holiday, Hsueh said.
Taiwan had communicated with the U.S. on the issue beforehand, she said, stressing that the ties between the two sides remained strong and solid.
Ma arrived by plane on Taiping Island before noon Thursday and proposed a road map for his South China Sea peace initiative. A Model for Peaceful Cooperation Taiping Island, also known as Itu Aba, is the largest (about 0.5 square kilometers) of the Spratly Islands. It was garrisoned for the first time by R.O.C. forces in 1956 and has been administered by Taiwan since 1946.
“My hope is that Taiwan will turn its occupation of Taiping Island, by far the largest of the contested Spratly features, into a model for peaceful cooperation with its neighbors that will embarrass Beijing into converting its artificial islands to similarly peaceful cooperation with its neighbors,” Cohen wrote in an online magazine forum last December.
The islands in the resource-rich South China Sea and their surrounding waters are fully or partially claimed by Taiwan, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.