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May 29, 2017

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Singaporean scholar supports Taiwan's Taiping Island claim

SINGAPORE--A Singaporean academic backed Taiwan's sovereignty claim over Taiping Island in the South China Sea on Saturday, saying the claim would be hard to overturn since the country has had a military and administrative presence on the island since 1956.

That presence gives Taiwan a powerful claim to ownership over the island, the biggest in the Spratly Island chain, and it shows the country should play a role in South China Sea issues, said Lee Lai To, a senior lecturer with Nanyang Technological University's School of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Lee was responding to a statement by Luong Thanh Nghi, a spokesman for Vietnam's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who said Taiwanese officials had no right to visit or declare ownership over the island, as such actions would infringe on Vietnam's sovereignty.

Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded late Thursday by reiterating its stance that Taiwan has sovereignty over the Pratas, Spratly, and Paracel Islands and the Macclesfield Bank and their surrounding waters in accordance with international law, history, and geography.

Lee said if the South China Sea issue ever reached the negotiating stage, Taiwan should participate in such talks.

The Singapore South China Sea expert noted, however, that Taiwan's participation in discussions would touch upon sensitive issues related to Beijing's "one China" policy.

China will not allow Taiwan to present itself to the international community as a sovereign country and highlight the political reality of "one China, one Taiwan" or "two Chinas," so Taiwan needed to consider the political identity it would use to gain a voice at the negotiating table, Lee said.

Many countries claim sovereignty over the waters and islands in the South China Sea, including Taiwan, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia.

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