On January 23, AMTI Director Gregory Poling and Ambassador José Abeto Zaide, now with the Manila Bulletin, became the first foreigners in 15 years to visit Itu Aba (Taiping Dao in Chinese)—the only feature in the Spratly Islands occupied by Taiwan. They accompanied a delegation of Taiwanese experts and officials, including the ministers of foreign affairs, mainland affairs, and environmental protection. President Ma Ying-jeou made his first visit to the island five days later. Using the graphic below, you can explore each location the group visited. And even more images and video follow.
Itu Aba has a lot of attention lately thanks to its inclusion in Manila’s arbitration case against Beijing’s South China Sea claims. The Philippines’ legal team has argued that Itu Aba cannot sustain human habitation and is therefore legally a “rock,” entitled to only a 12-nautical-mile territorial sea, and not an “island,” which would generate an exclusive economic zone and continental shelf. Manila believes that if Itu Aba—the largest naturally formed feature in the Spratly Islands—is not an island, then none of the Spratlys are. Taipei has insisted Itu Aba is an island, and the debate has focused on details such as the availability of drinkable water and arable soil.
For more on the debate, listen to recent AMTI podcasts with Paul Reichler, lead counsel for the Philippines, and Shen Lyu-Shun, Taiwan’s representative to the United States, or read “Is There Drinkable Water and Topsoil on Itu Aba?” by Yann-huei Song.