In an effort to reduce increasing tension surrounding sovereignty disputes among claimants of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, President Ma Ying-jeou yesterday proposed a new peace plan for the region, urging parties not to take unilateral actions that could further destabilize the area.
Ma outlined the "South China Sea Peace Initiative" during a keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the 2015 ILA-ASIL Asia Pacific Research Forum in Taipei, which called for the shelving of territorial disputes in favour of joint resource sharing.
Ma used the event to showcase his administration's diplomatic credentials, including previous experiences in reducing tension in the Taiwan Strait with China, the East China Sea with Japan and in overlapping waters between the Philippines.
He emphasised the need for reconciliation in areas of sovereignty disputes that allows for peaceful and legal means of dispute resolution.
The proposal for the initiative calls for all sides to exercise restraint and avoid unilateral action, respect international legal conventions dealing with maritime disputes, and the inclusion of all parties in negotiations.
Further points include co-operation on issues ranging from environmental protection, scientific research and humanitarian relief efforts.
Taiwan is among several governments including China, The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei with overlapping claims to the area which is intersected by a busy shipping corridor.
It administers Taiping Island, the largest island in the Spratly group, and the only one with a natural source of drinkable water.
Ma's proposal comes as China has continued unabated its recent efforts of land reclamation and artificial island construction in an effort seen by its neighbours as provocative action to extend its military reach in the 3.5-million-square-kilometer sea area which is believed to contain enormous oil and gas reserves.
Last week, a P8-A Poseidon surveillance plane from the United States Navy was repeatedly warned away by Chinese military dispatchers as it flew over one of China's larger reclamation projects in the Spratly Islands, in footage broadcast by cable television news network CNN.
Reports on Monday confirmed that Japan will join military exercises to be conducted by the United States and Australia in early July, which will include Special Forces tactics, amphibious landings and other maneuvers.
The president indicated that more specific guidelines of the initiative will be released by the relevant ministries in the next few days.
Ma's Initiative Vague: DPP
Responding to the president's proposal, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairwoman and 2016 presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen stated after a public event in Tainan City that the DPP would not abandon sovereignty claims to Taiping Island in the South China Sea. She expressed confusion as to why some would believe that a DPP government would propose such actions.
Tsai said that her party supports freedom of navigation and the elimination of aggressive posturing in the region.
Meanwhile, DPP Secretary-General Joseph Wu said that Ma's proposals required further definition lest they remain a mere slogan.
Wu insinuated that Ma's proposal was an alliance between Taiwan and China that was worrying its Japanese friends.
He said that any plan for the region would need to adhere to international laws, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea