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Taiwan Proposes South China Sea Plan   05/26 06:22

   TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) -- Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou proposed a plan 
Tuesday to ease tensions in a vast, resource-rich Asian ocean where China has 
chafed against its neighbors by using landfill to expand islets to solidify its 
claims in the region.

   Ma's plan calls for setting aside sovereignty disputes over the South China 
Sea and jointly exploring for resources.

   Taiwan has not been a high-profile player in the disputes in the South China 
Sea, although it uses roughly the same historical basis for its claim as China, 
and Ma's initiative appeared aimed at shoring up foreign policy credentials at 
home.

   "We emphasize that whereas sovereignty can't be divided, resources can be 
shared," Ma said in a speech Tuesday at an Asia-Pacific research forum in 
Taipei.

   Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Beijing has noted 
Ma's proposal, but offered no opinion as to its feasibility.

   "We believe that Chinese people across the strait are obliged to together 
maintain China's territorial integrity and maritime rights, and the peace and 
stability in the South China Sea," Hua told a regular briefing.

   Taiwan, China, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines claim all or 
parts of the 3.5 million-square kilometer (1.4 million-square mile) South China 
Sea. The ocean ranges from Taiwan's southern tip southwest to Singapore.

   In recent months China has made other claimants and their common ally the 
United States bristle by using landfill to form new islands, a way to extend 
its reach. The tropical sea is rich in oil, natural gas and fisheries and is 
crossed by major shipping routes.

   In a sign of recent tensions, Beijing filed a formal complaint with the 
United States this week after an American military plane flew over one islet, 
and Japan pledged to help Vietnam and the Philippines with defense as China's 
presence grows.

   Taiwan's initiative calls on "all parties concerned" to uphold the "freedom 
and safety of navigation and overflight" and avoid unilateral action that would 
escalate tension, according to a statement from the foreign ministry. It also 
suggests regional cooperation in developing the region's resources.

   Other South China Sea claimants are unlikely to react openly to Taiwan's 
initiative as they lack diplomatic relations with Ma's government. China claims 
sovereignty over Taiwan and uses its economic clout to bar other nations from 
exchanges that cast Taiwan as a nation.

   Ma did not discuss Tuesday the basis for Taiwan's maritime claim or that of 
other governments.

   The United States wants the sea to remain open to shipping and flights, 
while Beijing has said Washington wants to keep a presence there to contain 
Chinese maritime expansion. Taiwan is eager to get along with the United States 
as its staunchest informal ally.

   Ma's initiative "is not enough for China and it's not enough for the United 
States, so you just end up not meeting everyone's expectations," said Lai 
I-chung, vice president of Taiwan Think Tank.

   The peace plan may also be calculated to bolster Taiwan's ruling Nationalist 
Party ahead of a January 2016 presidential election as the chief opposition 
candidate develops a competing plan for the South China Sea, said Joanna Lei, 
chief executive officer of the Chunghua 21st Century Think Tank in Taiwan.

   Ma has been criticized at home for lack of foreign policy achievements.

   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.


(KA)


 
 
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