Accompanied by Phoenix Television, four coast guard patrol boats escorted a group of activists to “assert sovereignty” over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) on Thursday.
Following hard on the heels of a report on al-Jazeera asking if President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his government were ganging up with Beijing against Japan, three Chinese ocean surveillance ships and a Taiwanese coast guard patrol boat were sent to the waters near the Diaoyutais as if to confirm the concerns of outside observers.
Representative to the US King Pu-tsung (金溥聰) smoothed things over, saying that since Taiwan is a free and democratic country, the government cannot stop Taiwanese fishermen from going out to sea as long as they handle any applications in accordance with the law.
King also said that the Taiwanese government had asked them “to refrain from intensifying the conflict” and avoid situations that could have unforeseen consequences.
Since the government had asked the activists to exercise restraint, it is clear that the administration knew about, and approved, the action beforehand. The government should therefore also take full responsibility for the consequences.
First, were the activists and Phoenix reporters going fishing? Second, the weather was rough that day and the Diaoyutais are located far outside the 24 nautical mile (44.45km) limit for tourist fishing. In addition, it is a disputed area.
The coast guard both knew about and approved this risky plan and, at its own cost, sent patrol boats to protect the activists.
Did the Coast Guard Administration really need to send four ships to protect one fishing boat, and how will it deal with the fact that the activists violated the 24 nautical mile limit for recreational fishing stipulated in the Regulations for Recreational Fishery (娛樂漁業管理辦法)?
Based on the Disaster Prevention and Protection Act (災害防救法), the government has the right to fine citizens entering precautionary zones and demand that they foot the bill for any rescue costs, which raises the question of whether the activists should pay the costs incurred by the four coast guard vessels.
All this implies that the incident was a result of government decisions and manipulations. When the government should have put on the brakes, it instead pushed as much as it could.
The day before the incident, China, in a rare move, voted for sanctioning North Korea’s decision to launch a rocket in a UN Security Council ballot on the issue.
Outside observers interpreted this goodwill gesture toward the US because it could help China avoid having to fight a war on two fronts, over the Diaoyutais on the one hand and over North and South Korea on the other.
Last week, a representative of Japan’s coalition Cabinet delivered a letter from Japanse Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping (習近平) in an attempt to lower tensions over the Diaoyutais.
As outside observers try to find ways to lower tensions over the East China Sea, Ma continues to use government resources to stir up the situation, in effect turning Taiwan into China’s right-hand man.
One can only wonder if this is unintentional or deliberate.
HoonTing is a writer.
Translated by Perry Svensson