Tue, Jun 28, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Sovereignty issue clouds the waters

By Lin Cho-shui 林濁水

There are two fundamental flaws in the unificationist faction's understanding of the Diaoyutai (釣魚台) issue. First, it thinks that although China, Japan and South Korea have signed bilateral fishing agreements, Taiwan cannot sign such pacts as long as the issue of sovereignty over the islands remains unresolved. Second, they believe that the government is too soft, which invites Japanese bullying and disaster for the fishermen.

The reality is quite the opposite. The government is far tougher on the Diaoyutai issue than Beijing. Taiwan's belief that a resolution to the territorial issue is required for defining fishing areas is a major reason why an agreement cannot be reached. While former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) was alive, Beijing and Tokyo put their dispute over the Diaoyutais to the side and developed a joint stance which allowed them to reach a fishing agreement. South Korea and Japan only reached their fishing deal because they were willing to preclude the issue of sovereignty over the islands from the negotiations.

Because "protection of the Diaoyutais" is a lofty cause to some people in Taiwan, it has become an essential focus for negotiations for them. This is making negotiations very difficult and is harmful to the interests of fishermen. The basis on which the unification camp attempts to claim sovereignty and protect the Diaoyutais is also incorrect.

The most beneficial standpoint for Japan would be to fall back on the principle of actual controlled territory and emphasize that the development and occupation of the Diaoyutais were never challenged between 1894 and 1970. China thinks its strength is its historical records and the eastward extension of the continental shelf.

Taiwan's strongest card is that it is the traditional fishing grounds for Taiwanese fishermen, and, more important, geologically speaking, the Diaoyutais and the Ryukyus are separated by a trench, with the Diaoyutai islands being an extension of the Tatun mountain range (大屯山脈).

It is, however, very strange that the Ministry of the Interior has written 11 pages of argument for Taiwan's claim to territorial sovereignty over the Diaoyutais. The arguments are overwhelmingly focused on Chinese history and emphasize that the Diaoyutais are traditional Chinese territory. This is not, in fact, a strong point, because if it were, China would be able to go all the way back to Genghis Khan and claim that Moscow is Chinese territory.

The most geologically beneficial fact, the Tatun mountain range extension, is not mentioned at all. Instead, an argument is made emphasizing the eastward extension of the Chinese continental shelf. What's more, although an argument is made based on the area being part of Taiwan's traditional fishing grounds, that argument is given little space. Even worse, the overall logic of the argument is that Taiwan is part of China, and therefore the Diaoyutais are part of Taiwan.

These arguments are of no help to Taiwan's position in the Diaoyutai conflict, and in fact forcefully pushes Taiwan further away from discussions over the sovereignty issue.

The reason for this is very simple. Japan recognized Beijing as the only legal government of China when the two established diplomatic relations. Therefore Tokyo must recognize Beijing as its counterpart in any negotiations regarding matters involving China. The more Taiwan claims that the Diaoyutais belong to China, the less right it has to engage Japan in talks about sovereignty over the islands.

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