Taiwan's tenuous relationship with China, another claimant of the disputed sea, blocks it from negotiating with other governments through the usual diplomatic channels. But environmental research covering the entire disputed area could turn favorable attention to Taiwan while not getting it in any trouble. Other governments would be reminded at the same time that Taiwan is sticking to its claim.
“Environmental protection is the least sensitive issue, and it’s nonaggressive if you talk about national parks or inviting the tourism industry, so it will be easily accepted not only by the People's Republic of China but also other neighboring countries,” said Nathan Liu, associate international affairs professor at Ming Chuan University in Taiwan.
Taiwan and China cite the same reason for their claims to the sea area, which encompasses 250 barely populated islets, a network of shipping lanes, and possible undersea reserves of oil and natural gas.
The Republic of China, Taiwan’s legal name, and its 1940s civil war adversary the People’s Republic of China both argue that the Chinese Navy was active in the sea during the Han and Ming dynasties. China, meanwhile, claims not only the 3.5 million square-kilometer ocean area but also Taiwan itself, and uses its might to forbid countries elsewhere in Asia from formal dialogue with officials in Taipei.
But since 2008, Taiwanese officials have sought to get along better with China after six decades of hostilities, another reason for their soft approach to the sea dispute.