Expert sees no end to dispute over Spratlys

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KUALA LUMPUR: An independent defence and strategy analyst has voiced doubt that an end to the dispute over the Spratly Islands can be resolved in the foreseeable future although literal interpretations of relevant treaties give Taiwan the legal right to claim the archipelago.

The problem is that some countries subscribe to the One China policy and therefore don’t consider Taiwan a sovereign state, according to Lam Choong Wah.

“There are only two treaties which mention the arrangement of sovereignty over the Spratly Islands and both are recognised by all western powers and haven’t been challenged by any of the countries involved in the dispute,” he told FMT.

The first treaty is the San Francisco Treaty of 1951, by which Japan renounces all rights and claims to the Spratlys, which it occupied in World War 2. The second, known as the Taipei Treaty, was signed in 1952. It gives sovereignty to the “Republic of China”, now known as the Taiwan or Taipei Government.

“So, who rules Taipei actually rules Spratly Islands,” said Lam.

He said the One China policy implied that any country seeking diplomatic relations with Beijing must break official ties with Taipei. Malaysia is one such country.

Lam acknowledged the argument that Taiwan shouldn’t have been involved in the Taipei Treaty as it had no locus standi to represent mainland China, which in 1952 was still maintaining its isolation from the international community. Only in 1971 did it assume full membership in the United Nations. Between 1949 and 1971, the Taipei government represented China in the world body.

Beijing recognises neither the San Francisco Treaty nor the Taipei Treaty.

Lam said the validity of the Taipei Treaty could be challenged before the International Court of Justice.

He noted the opinion of some academics that the claims made by Malaysia, Brunei and Philippines were weak because they had incorrectly interpreted the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Convention on the Continental Shelf.

Lam said Malaysia, in claiming parts of the Spratlys, would need to challenge the legality of the Taipei Treaty.