Experts stress the strategic importance of the Diaoyutais.
For example, they are located at the center of the first group of islands and if Taiwan gains control over them, it can use them as a shield and deploy a defense against invasion by enemies into its northern parts.
If Japan gains control over the Diaoyutais, it can use them to control Taiwan and as a base to implement a strategic expansion southward, greatly expanding its defensive reach, and its ability to monitor northern Taiwan, a large swath of China’s coastal region and the important shipping lanes in the waters around the Taiwan Strait.
These actions appear to follow another of Mahan’s ideas about maritime power: To become a maritime power, it is necessary to occupy a centrally located island.
However, this is not so: In addition to location, the island must offer enough strength and resources to become a fleet base. Without this it could easily be attacked and difficult to defend, and instead turn into a heavy strategic and tactical burden.
This is something that the Chinese military understands. So why are they so interested in the Diaoyutais?
It is not just the issue of morale and marine resources; China has other, ulterior, motives. It wants to break through to Taiwan, but first is looking for a way to undermine Taiwan’s security partnership or quasi-military alliance with the US concerning the Diaoyutais.
When President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) took office and adopted a pro-Chinese policy, wanting to build mutual military trust between China and Taiwan, the Chinese military saw its chance. It used the sovereignty dispute between Taiwan and other countries bordering on the South China Sea to initiate military cooperation between Taiwan and China, and now it is pushing hard for the same cooperation over the Diaoyutais.
The result is that the Diaoyutais and Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island, 太平島) have become geopolitical pillars in China’s attempts to undermine Taiwan’s role in the island chain issue.
Representative to the US King Pu-tsung (金溥聰) has said that the Diaoyutais have made East Asia a sensitive issue, adding that Taiwan is an important reason for the US’ redeployment toward the Asia-Pacific. This displays an understanding of Taiwan’s position in light of China’s manipulations.
Regardless of what happens, Taiwan must be both bold and cautious. This is a dangerous situation and the nation is small.
Lin Cho-shui is a former Democratic Progressive Party legislator.
Translated by Perry Svensson