“Taiwan seems to be seeking ways to remind other nations of its sovereignty claims,” says Bonnie Glaser, senior Asia adviser with the Washington-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Taiwan doesn’t want to be ignored or forgotten.”
China has considered self-ruled Taiwan part of its territory since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s, chilling ties until 2008 when the two sides put aside political differences to discuss trade and economic links.
But new incidents have challenged the fragile détente, and Taiwan is already angry about last year’s Chinese passports that claim two Taiwanese landmarks. Oil could be next, as Taiwan says it has no plans to share its search with China.
Vietnam and the Philippines also staked claims in the sea. Vessels from China and the Philippines were locked in a standoff last year, and 70 Vietnamese sailors died in a clash in 1988.
But even as both countries periodically make what's thought of as aggressive moves in the region, both would stop short of forcing Taiwan out from the waters near Spratly where it already has an airstrip, analysts say. Too much bluster might push Taiwan closer to China, which wants more economic ties with Taiwan and which Southeast Asian claimants see as a bigger threat to their maritime interests.
“Lacking much naval power, Manila would have a hard time actually physically preventing any oil exploration by Taiwan,” says Scott Harold, associate political scientist at the RAND Corp., a policy research nonprofit in the United States.