The public often complains the government lacks creativity. However, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has bucked the trend with a series of initiatives over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) sovereignty claim controversy.
Last year, when the Japanese government bought three of the islands, China sent fishing boats and fishery administration ships to the waters surrounding the Diaoyutais and claimed sovereignty over the chain.
While Tokyo and Beijing were hotly contesting each others’ claims, Taipei chose not to get involved in the mud-slinging, opting instead to call for submissions for a writing competition on the issue and to wait for the storm to abate. Nobody remembers what came of the writing competition.
Tensions between China and Japan over the islands have risen again recently, with both having a sea and air presence in the area. This has been sufficiently serious to raise concern that the islands could serve as a tinderbox for a military confrontation between the two sides. Again, the ministry came up with an unconventional response, commissioning a series of short public information films, in talk show format, to be posted online.
The press and certain politicians have failed to appreciate the ministry’s creativity or its sense of humor. The response has been almost universally negative. Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) said she failed to see the joke, and that when she saw the first installment, she felt embarrassed.
While other nations around Taiwan are on tenterhooks, anxious to see how the drama will play out, Taiwan has decided to turn the whole thing into a bit of a laugh.
Minister of Foreign Affairs David Lin (林永樂) said the idea behind the films was to present the facts on the issue to the public in a “lively way.”
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Vanessa Shih (史亞平) added that this is a lighthearted, humorous way of presenting the issue, and that the target audience was the Taiwanese public: The films were not aimed at foreign audiences and were not to be translated into English or Japanese, so that the international community would not watch them.
The whole thing is a farce and lies beyond the remit of government departments responsible for overseas affairs. Had the films really been intended as public education films, responsibility for commissioning them should have fallen to the Ministry of the Interior.
Shih has evidently forgotten she is no longer head of the now-defunct Government Information Office, nor responsible for informing the public about policy. If the ministry is to provide information, it should be directed at the international community and translated into international languages, to explain Taiwan’s position.
Indeed, any information provided by the ministry should be in the form of historical documents demonstrating that Taiwan has a legal claim to the Diaoyutais and to make Taiwan’s political position known.
The nation may not be too happy with the present situation, in which Japan is the de facto administrator of the islands, but nothing is to be gained by stirring up tensions. What is needed is a peaceful resolution, in which disputes are set aside, the islands are developed jointly, the resources are shared and benefits are gained by all sides.
The Diaoyutais issue is a major one, with both domestic and international ramifications. The government should seek a rational response from the international community, not try to stir up an emotive response at home.
Turning it all into a joke will fall flat at home and be misunderstood abroad. It certainly will not be understood by China or Japan, whose interests are tied up in this issue. All it will do is marginalize the nation.