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Director Dr. Hu's views on marine affairs were reported by a feature article entitled "Blue Revolution" in the latest issue of Taiwan Review (February 2014) published by the Foreign Ministry of the Republic of China

Blue Revolution

  • Byline:JIM HWANG
  • Publication Date:02/01/2014
Blue Revolution

President Ma Ying-jeou addresses participants at the 2013 East China Sea Peace Forum. Ma’s East China Sea Peace Initiative offers a practical solution for reducing tensions in the region. (Photo courtesy of Office of the President)

The Republic of China’s revamped maritime policies are preparing the way for sustainable prosperity from the sea.

The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which came into force on November 16, 1994, defines the rights and responsibilities of nations regarding their use of the oceans and establishes guidelines for commercial activities, environmental protection and management of marine resources. In accordance with the convention’s standards, countries around the globe have established or reviewed maritime policies to meet the goal of cultivating ocean resources in a sustainable manner.

The Republic of China (ROC), which is surrounded by the sea, is a typical ocean nation with rich marine resources. However, martial law, which was in effect from 1949 to 1987, prevented most Taiwanese people from fully tapping into those resources, as many parts of the country’s shores were designated as restricted military areas. There were understandable national security considerations behind the restrictions, given the state of relations with mainland China and the resulting fears of invasion. The unforeseen effect of the restrictions was that people were barred from the ocean not only physically, but also psychologically. Nien-tsu Alfred Hu (胡念祖), director of The Center for Marine Policy Studies at National Sun Yat-sen University in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan, notes that except for those working in the fishing and cargo shipping industries, martial law kept people from exploring the ocean’s possibilities and prevented the formation of an identity that encompassed being a citizen of an ocean state.

Restrictions on visiting coastal areas were removed after martial-law rule ended and cross-strait tensions eased, while other maritime policies were proposed and adjusted. The central government referred to UNCLOS standards as it drew up and enacted the Law on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone of the Republic of China, as well as the Law on the Exclusive Economic Zone and the Continental Shelf of the Republic of China, both of which were promulgated in 1998. “By defining Taiwan’s sea territory, the two laws have provided the foundation for all subsequent maritime regulations and policies,” says Hu, who helped draft both pieces of legislation.

An important administrative adjustment came in 2000, when the ROC Navy handed the responsibilities of controlling and securing coastal areas, ports and vessels over to the newly formed Coast Guard Administration (CGA). While on the surface this appeared to be merely a transfer of power from one government agency to another, there was political and democratic significance to shifting authority from the military to a law enforcement force run by an elected government. “That move has made Taiwan one of the few advanced countries in the world to operate separate military and law enforcement forces on the sea,” says Chiau Wen-yan (邱文彥), an ROC legislator.

Blue Revolution-1

Taiwan has adjusted maritime policies to hasten its transformation into an environmentally sustainable, secure and prosperous ocean state. (Photo by Chang Su-ching)

The Conference on National Oceans Policy at National Sun Yat-sen University was another important 1998 event. “The conference was Taiwan’s response to the United Nations’ designation of 1998 as the International Year of the Ocean,” Hu says. “More importantly, the conference marked the first time Taiwan had conducted a comprehensive examination of its national oceans policy.” Conclusions reached at the conference were compiled and released in 2001 as the Oceans White Paper, which states that the ROC is an ocean nation that relies on the seas for its existence and development.

In 2004, the Council of Marine Affairs Advancement, which was later renamed the Task Force for Maritime Affairs, was set up under the Executive Yuan. Currently chaired by the ROC’s vice premier, the task force comprises experts and officials of relevant agencies and serves as an inter-ministerial coordinator for Taiwan’s maritime affairs.

The task force quickly drafted the National Oceans Policy Guidelines to serve as the foundation of the ROC government’s drive to bring about “a healthy marine environment, safe ocean activities and thriving ocean industries,” the guidelines stated, adding that the overall goal was to transform Taiwan into “an eco-friendly, secure and prosperous Ocean State.” The government reviewed the 2001 white paper and referred to the guidelines as it drafted the Oceans Policy White Paper, which was released in 2006 and sets policy directions including protecting maritime rights, intensifying maritime law enforcement, maintaining marine safety, protecting the ocean environment, developing ocean industries, cultivating maritime culture and enhancing marine scientific studies. Chiau notes that although the 2006 white paper is not perfect, the revision was drafted in accordance with an integrated schema for development of an ocean nation and draws clear and comprehensive policy goals.

Several government agencies have released their own maritime policy documents based on the 2006 white paper. The National Security Council, for example, incorporated maritime elements into its 2006 National Security Report. Meanwhile, the CGA published the Coast Guard White Paper in July 2007 to detail its core missions of overseeing maritime affairs, maritime law enforcement and maritime service, while the Ministry of Education issued the White Paper on Marine Education Policy in August 2007 to define development goals and strategies for maritime education in Taiwan. While acknowledging these policy instruments are “quite limited in both number and depth,” Hu says their limitations reflect the fact that maritime affairs is a broad subject with a wide range of subtopics that fall within the jurisdiction of different government agencies.

Blue Revolution-2

The ROC Navy handed over the responsibilities of controlling and securing the nation’s coastal areas, ports and vessels to the Coast Guard Administration in 2000. (Photo by Central News Agency)

Different Directions

Hu’s view is echoed by Kao Shih-ming (高世明), an assistant research fellow in the Institute of Marine Resources Management at National Taiwan Ocean University in Keelung City, northern Taiwan. “The scattered authority among various agencies leads to a situation where the agencies may pull in different directions,” Kao says. “Another problem is that issues can be marginalized within an agency and don’t receive enough attention.”

From 2000 to 2008, “building an ocean nation” was one of the policy pillars of the Democratic Progressive Party, the ruling party at the time. When Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was elected ROC president in 2008, he proposed “creating a blue revolution and seeking prosperity from the ocean” as the directions for the nation’s maritime policy. “We need to move away from our ‘land power’ mentality and make Taiwan into a combination of all the best that the land and sea have to offer,” states the Office of the President’s Policy Standpoint, which sets out the president’s vision for the government. Along with protecting marine ecosystems and strengthening marine awareness, education and identity, another key element of the president’s policy calls for safeguarding the national interest by unifying authority over maritime affairs.

In fact, there have been many calls for the establishment of a maritime affairs ministry over the years, and there appeared to be a good opportunity to do just that in 2009 when the Executive Yuan began considering the next phase of the central government’s restructuring effort. During those deliberations, however, what had been originally proposed as a maritime ministry was downgraded to a council that only handled policy coordination and integration.

As a council, the new maritime agency might not be as effective, according to Hu. “The fact is simply that ROC law gives other government agencies control over specific maritime functions, along with the necessary manpower and budget to execute those functions,” he says. “It’s doubtful how much authority over policy coordination and integration this council would be able to exercise without possessing more substantive powers.”

Hu does not necessarily mean, however, that it would be better to have a huge agency that manages everything related to maritime affairs. With sufficient resources and power, he believes a more focused council could function well as a top-level policy and decision-making body. Citing the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) as an example, the marine studies director notes that while various aspects of mainland affairs are handled by different ROC government agencies, the MAC is the body responsible for drawing up overall policies and has the final say on all related matters. “There can be many executors, but there should be only one policymaker,” he says. “It’s hard to carry out a core ideology when a dozen agencies that execute aspects of ocean-related affairs are making up their own policies.”

Although the law that would establish the marine council remains before the legislature, the government has been making progress in a number of other maritime areas, particularly that of cooperating with neighboring countries to develop marine resources. Based on the UNCLOS’ provisions, Ma proposed the East China Sea Peace Initiative (ECSPI) in August 2012 to address territorial disputes over the Diaoyutais—a group of uninhabited isles in the East China Sea that is part of the ROC territory, yet over which the governments of Japan and mainland China also claim sovereignty. The ECSPI is based on the concept that while sovereignty is indivisible, resources can be shared. The initiative urges all parties involved to maintain dialogue, observe international law, refrain from aggression and shelve sovereignty disputes while establishing a mechanism for jointly exploring and developing natural resources.

Blue Revolution-3

Taiping Island in the South China Sea is the southernmost point under ROC sovereignty. The island, which falls under the administrative jurisdiction of Kaohsiung City, is mostly inhabited by ROC Coast Guard Administration personnel. (Photo by Central News Agency)

Ending Controversies

Eight months after the ECSPI was proposed, Taiwan’s Association of East Asian Relations and Japan’s Interchange Association inked a fisheries agreement in Taipei. The agreement was needed because the Diaoyutais occupy a point where the two countries’ exclusive economic zones (EEZ) overlap. In addition to ending controversies over where fishing could be conducted, the agreement established a Taiwan-Japan committee that serves as a permanent mechanism for consultations on fisheries issues. Moreover, the pact is a good example of the spirit of the ECSPI, as it allows Taipei and Tokyo to focus on shared resource development and other areas of mutual concern while shelving territorial disputes.

Before the fisheries agreement was inked, many expressed doubt about the effectiveness of the ECSPI, as Taipei and Tokyo had gone through dozens of rounds of negotiations over the Diaoyutais since 1996 without achieving much progress. “The signing of the Taiwan-Japan fisheries agreement demonstrates that the peace initiative provides a means that is acceptable to both parties,” says Wu Ming-yen (吳銘彥), an assistant research fellow at the National Policy Foundation, a Taipei-based think tank. “Putting aside sovereignty disputes and focusing on resources and the rights of fishermen is a most practical way of dealing with such a difficult situation.”

The ECSPI, as Ma has said on several occasions, is designed to provide a solution for all parties involved, including mainland China. While mainland China has not shown any intention of joining Taiwan and Japan’s discussions over the Diaoyutais, the principles of the peace initiative have been applied in Taiwan’s fisheries talks with the Philippines, which also has an overlapping EEZ with Taiwan. Taipei and Manila, following a preparatory meeting in June 2013, held further fisheries talks in October the same year and reached consensus on a number of issues. According to the ROC Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at that meeting the two countries agreed to establish an emergency notification system for fishing-related incidents as well as a notification mechanism for law enforcement actions, direct hotlines and a prompt release procedure for vessels and crews detained in the future.

At the East China Sea Peace Forum held in August 2013 in Taipei, Richard C. Bush, director of the Center for East Asia Policy Studies of the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C. and former chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan, described the ECSPI as a constructive approach to complex disputes in the region. “The Taiwan-Japan fisheries agreement demonstrates a concrete way where countries that have been at odds can sort of change the rules of the game in a way that reduces tensions and benefits everybody,” he said.

For many years, cross-strait tensions and martial law meant that Taiwanese people were largely denied access to the coastline. Since the end of that era, however, policymakers have increasingly recognized that for the ocean state of Taiwan, the seas represent an economic asset, opportunity and responsibility. Taiwan has learned to communicate with neighboring countries about exercising its rights under UNCLOS, members of the public have grown more aware that they are citizens of an ocean state, and laws and regulations have been established to ensure that maritime resources are tapped in a sustainable manner. “Even as we take steps to ensure proper environmental safeguards, the government most certainly intends to ease restrictions on coastal activities and development, so that Taiwan can really and truly create a blue revolution and seek prosperity from the ocean,” Ma’s policy platform says.

Write to Jim Hwang at

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