The incident involving a Taiwanese fishing boat that sunk when it was hit by a Japan Coast Guard patrol boat has drawn a lot of criticism in Taiwan and according to reports, this matter has also attracted a lot of attention in Japan.
Serious conflicts over territory are common even between friendly nations.
Taiwan and Japan have close relations that are constantly improving. Relations between both sides are now at the highest point they have been in 50 years.
Hopefully the leaders of Taiwan and Japan will be able to solve this conflict in a calm manner.
The best way of handling this matter is for both parties to make the truth of the incident known and then come up with ways to make amends.
While this issue involved a fishing boat, the crux of the matter is territorial sovereignty. If the Diaoyutais belong to Taiwan, then a Taiwanese boat fishing within its own territory is legal.
On the other hand, if the Diaoyutais belong to Japan, the actions carried out by the Japan Coast Guard were also legal. In the second case, it should still be asked whether Japan’s actions were excessive.
The Diaoyutai archipelago is made up of uninhabited islands, and from early times only fishermen from the Ryuku islands and Taiwan fished there. The area’s small, narrow geography makes it unsuitable for habitation and therefore the sovereignty of the area was never really an issue.
Later, according to the Treaty of Shimonoseki signed by Japan and the Qing court of China, Taiwan was ceded to Japan. Fishermen from Taiwan and the Ryuku islands continued to fish as they had done in the past with no conflict.
Japanese fishermen even erected racks for drying fish on the islets.
After World War II, when the US occupied the Ryukus, the US military used the Diaoyutais as a shooting range until 1972, when it returned the Ryukyus to Japan.
Ever since then the area has been effectively ruled by Japan.
Japan legally gave up its claim to Taiwan when the San Francisco Peace Treaty came into effect in 1952. Since then, some have claimed that Taiwan is a sovereign nation, while others claim that its status is uncertain.
But the Taiwanese public and government have never declared ownership of the Diaoyutai in an international forum.
The Diaoyutais attracted much international attention when reports some years ago suggested that there were oil reserves in the area.
That was the time when the Republic of China on Taiwan asserted its ownership over the islets.
Meanwhile, because the People’s Republic of China believes that Taiwan is a part of its territory, it views the islets as part of its own territory.
It is therefore evident that Beijing’s claims to the islets are hard to accept.
This incident has happened at a time when Taiwan-Japan relations are warming.
Hopefully, the Taiwanese and Japanese governments can negotiate peacefully and rationally based on their friendship and resolve the matter appropriately while maintaining their mutual interests.
From history and experience, we know that the negotiation of sovereign issues is often time-consuming.
To maintain friendly relations in the long term, the Taiwanese and Japanese governments should come up with a temporary solution so that they can share the waters for fishing and marine resources.
Ng Chiau-tong is chairman of World United Formosans for Independence.
TRANSLATED BY DREW CAMERON AND EDDY CHANG
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