As the 15th round of negotiations between Taiwan and Japan over fishing rights in the areas surrounding the Diaoyutais begin in Tokyo today, there will undoubtedly be many an opportunity for demagoguery by the opposition parties. If past performance is any indication of future behavior, then it is likely that a handful of vocal interest groups, coupled with the pan-blue camp's pathological inability to agree with the pan-greens about anything, will put an extreme amount of pressure on the government.
But it is vital that the Taiwanese delegation ignore the hyperbole that will almost certainly come from the fishermen's associations and focus on achieving a result that maximizes the country's strategic interests.
Soon, fishermen's association representatives will fill the airwaves with their tearful pleas for attention, claiming that their livelihoods are threatened and that the government is not doing anything to protect them.
Some may even go so far as to once again threaten to hoist Chinese flags on their ships to demonstrate dissatisfaction with their native land.
Such despicable behavior, while theatrical, is also all too often effective in mobilizing the government to offer face-saving aid programs and subsidies. It worked for the orange growers, it worked for the farmers and it will undoubtedly work for the fishermen of Suao if they cry convincingly enough.
But there is a problem with such caving in by the government -- aside from the fact that it is our tax dollars that are being used to pay for such unnecessary profligacies.
There is more at stake with this issue than the livelihood of the nation's fishermen. The conflict over the Diaoyutais must be seen as an opportunity for the country to cement its friendly relationship with Japan, and also as an opportunity for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to prove that it can be effective in defending the national interest.
The issue of sovereignty is one that, in principle, the government must stand firm on -- but this does not preclude a reasonable solution being reached, in which the question of sovereignty is ignored for the moment.
A likely arrangement would allow for shared economic rights in certain areas, or else the designation of a temporary line of effective control, which would divide the economic rights and policing responsibilities between the two nations, without commenting upon the status of the Diaoyutais themselves.
Ironically, forging an agreement between Tokyo and Taipei over the Diaoyutais will be opposed in both nations by rightist hardliners who will emotionally declare that the very souls of their countries are at stake, and that there is no room for compromise.
Unfortunately, another parallel in both countries is that such absurdities are given currency by major political parties and prominent officials. In the case of Japan, however, even dyed-in-the-wool nationalists have a soft spot in their hearts for Taiwan due to Japan's colonial legacy here, and for this reason Tokyo will probably be willing to give some space for creative compromise.
In Taiwan, however, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the People First Party will be at the forefront in sabotaging an accord, as the last thing they want is for the DPP to successfully negotiate a prominent international agreement of some importance. Such a result would be anathema to everything that the pan-blues have claimed about President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and his administration: that it is incompetent and has ruined Taiwan's economy.
Now is a chance for the administration to hit back by showing that it is willing to stand up for Taiwan's interests by quelling a dispute with the nation's most important regional ally, Japan. And by inking a "joint Diaoyutai development accord" which would give Taiwan access to valuable resources that it currently cannot touch, the government would also be giving a boost to the nation's economy.
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