On July 4, just a few days before the 75th anniversary of the Lugouqiao Incident, also called the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) approved the departure of the fishing boat Quanjiafu for the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), dispatching five Coast Guard Administration (CGA) vessels as an escort.
However, to everyone’s surprise, the Diaoyutai activists took only the flag of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) with them, an action that won praise from China, but caused widespread astonishment in Taiwan and raised many questions in Japan.
With the support of China, Hong Kong, Macau and other overseas sponsors, the World Chinese Alliance in Defense of the Diaoyu Islands (WCADDI) rented the Quanjiafu for a second time to protest in defense of Taiwan’s sovereignty over the Diaoyutai Islands.
Before the boat set out, the CGA conducted a scenario analysis of what might happen and how to deal with the outcome. It then approved the departure from Shenao Fishing Port (深澳漁港) in New Taipei City (新北市), and sent five vessels to escort the boat all the way, to within 0.8 nautical miles (1.2km) of the islands. During the journey, the CGA even placed three coast guard members on the Quanjiafu to prevent the Japanese coast guard from boarding the boat.
In June 2008, after a Taiwanese fishing boat sank following a collision with a Japanese patrol vessel, the government sent nine coast guard vessels to escort Quanjiafu as it sailed around the Diaoyutai Islands at a distance of only 0.4 nautical miles (600m). The boat’s two visits to the disputed islands under the escort of CGA vessels were very similar and both quite risky.
The Diaoyutai activists were copying the actions of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) New Taipei City Councilor King Chieh-shou (金介壽), who landed on one of the islands carrying a Republic of China (ROC) flag in October 1996.
In that instance, Ma and the CGA would have been able to claim that they had completed a successful action in defense of the ROC’s sovereignty over the islands. Unfortunately, when the government decided to escort the Quanjiafu, this time officials failed to include the possibility that the activists would only display a PRC flag as part of the sovereignty claim over the islands as one of the scenarios. In addition, the CGA’s safety check at the fishing port was also careless in that it failed to prevent the activists from being escorted by ROC coast guard vessels as they claimed sovereignty for the PRC over the islands.
In terms of the sovereignty dispute over the Diaoyutai Islands, Ma has reiterated the position that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait will only protest against Japan separately, that Taiwan is not collaborating with China to resolve the dispute and that it has no intention of doing so in future. He recently said that he disapproved of the fact that the activists took a PRC flag with them. Perhaps he also regrets the decision to send coast guard vessels to escort the boat.
Ma once pledged that he would resolve any fishery issues before dealing with the territorial issue, but he does not seem to be aware that the small number of Diaoyutai activists do not go there for the purpose of fishing.
The real challenge here is whether the government will be able to protect the rights and interests of the large number of Taiwanese fishermen operating in the waters around the Diaoyutais.