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Taiwan has important role in South China Sea: Ma

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- President Ma Ying-jeou said Monday that the Republic of China plays a “very important role” in the South China Sea and “will not be absent” from any future international negotiations regarding the territorial disputes there.

The ROC government has had sovereignty over the islands of the disputed South China Sea for a long time, during which no other countries disputing its claims, Ma asserted while making an address at the opening of an exhibition on historical archives relating to the islands that make up the country's “southern territories.”

In recent years, the government has conducted a series of peaceful, non-military activities in the region to show the international community its intense efforts to manage these islands and play a major role, he said.

Among these efforts, Ma listed the opening of an administrative office for the Dongsha Atoll National Park in 2010 to promote the Dongsha (Pratas) Islands as a center for international maritime research.

In 2011, the government completed an initial geological exploration and marine survey in an area stretching 49,500 square kilometers near the Dongsha and the Nansha (Spratly) Islands, he said.

In the same year, the government built a photovoltaic system on

the Nansha Islands with the goal of reducing carbon emissions there, he continued.

Taiwan has completed a communications network on Taiping Island, the largest of the Nanshas, and Ma said the government is working on improving the island's transportation infrastructure.

He said the exhibition can highlight the importance of the islands to Taiwan and show the documents that constitute the basis for the country's claims over the area.

“The ROC cannot be excluded in either consultations or negotiations related to the South China Sea or discussions of a code of conduct among the countries concerned,” he said.

Ma proposed that claimant nations put aside their disputes and jointly explore and develop maritime resources in the South China Sea.

Such an approach has been proven viable in resolving the fishing dispute between Taiwan and Japan near the disputed Diaoyutai Islands in the East China Sea, he said.

Lu Fang-shang, the head of exhibit organizer Academia Historica, argued the historical items on display at the national archives prove the ROC's sovereignty over the South China Sea and that the country should seek to resolve territorial disputes through historical investigation, a legal basis and international cooperation.

He pointed to a map of the South China Sea published by the Ministry of the Interior in 1947, which includes a U-shape line to demarcate the islands as ROC territory.

In 1956, an ROC Naval fleet was dispatched to patrol the South China Sea and escort soldiers to Taiping Island, he added. The military continuously manned the island until 2000, when the task was taken over by the Coast Guard Administration.

The ROC insists that the island groups and their surrounding waters are all an integral part of its territory. These claims partly or wholly overlap with claims by China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.

The Exhibition of Historical Archives on the Southern Territories of the Republic of China will run at Academia Historica until Oct. 31.

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