While discussion of the issue has cooled off somewhat in Taiwan, the East China Sea peace initiative recently proposed by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is still attracting heated discussion in China, Japan and South Korea.
I believe people in Taiwan should carefully discuss the pros and cons of this initiative as well as the ways Taiwan should follow up on the proposal.
First, some people had unrealistic expectations about the proposal, thinking that all sides involved would respond positively to the idea.
A peace initiative merely represents a hope that it can be accepted by the countries concerned. It also implies that further discussion of the issue is needed.
Given Taiwan’s unique geopolitical situation, the muted reaction from the other countries concerned should not come as a surprise.
While reporters have been asking how the US views the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) issue, the US has avoided the topic and instead stressed that all problems should be solved peacefully. They maintain that they have no position on who holds sovereignty over the Diaoyutais.
Although the US seems to favor Japan due to their bilateral military alliance, at least these remarks mark a return to the US’s fuzzy stance on the issue. Regardless of their intentions, the US does seem to take a moderate position.
Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba has said that the Senkaku Islands — the Japanese name for the Diaoyutais — are an integral part of Japan, that there is no sovereignty issue and that Japan cannot accept Taiwan’s unilateral suggestions on the issue.
This stance is in direct opposition to Taiwan’s stance on the matter.
In fact, Ma proposed the East China Sea peace initiative based on the premise that the Diaoyutais are auxiliary islands of Taiwan and an integral part of the territory of the Republic of China.
Therefore, Japan’s remarks have no bearing on the sovereignty claims Taiwan has made over the years.
In interpreting the remarks by the Japanese foreign minister, it seems the key aim is to prevent the matter from disrupting the friendly relations between Japan and Taiwan and that cooperation between Taiwan and Japan in the East China Sea is not out of the question.
It is worth noting that Gemba said concrete cooperation was important to peace and stability in the East China Sea.
Some people were inevitably disappointed with Japan’s response, saying they felt it was just diplomatic rhetoric and lacking in sincerity.
However, instead of viewing these remarks as insincere “diplomatese,” I believe the government should use this as an opportunity to carry out diplomatic consultation and demand that Japan engage in talks about fishing industries in Taiwan and Japan.
Alternatively, the government could, at the very least, start negotiations about allowing Taiwanese research ships into the special economic waters.
A look at the way things stand in the East China Sea shows that Japan is in an awkward position.
In the northeast, South Korea claims the Liancourt Rocks — known as Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese — while in the south, China is taking a strong line in claiming the Diaoyutais.
Japan has stated that it is willing to submit the Liancourt Rocks dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Japan has also not excluded the possibility of submitting the Diaoyutai issue to the ICJ.