Fri, Jun 13, 2008 - Page 1 News List

Stand-off over the Diaoyutais heats up

DIPLOMATIC UPROAR The Presidential Office restated Taiwan's claim to the islands, while the president came under attack for his low-key response to the incident

Protesters tear up Japanese flags outside the Japan Exchange Association in Taipei yesterday as they demand that Tokyo apologize for the sinking of a Taiwanese fishing boat on Tuesday off the Diaoyutais.

PHOTO: SAM YEH, AFP

By Ko Shu-ling, Jenny W. Hsu and Loa Iok-sin

Staff Reporters

The Presidential Office yesterday issued a statement that claimed sovereignty over the disputed Diaoyutai (釣魚台) island chain as President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) remained tight-lipped amid calls for him to clarify his position.

The calls stemmed from a report in the Chinese-language United Daily News yesterday, which claimed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) had instructed a Taiwanese coast guard vessel to “back off” as it approached an area where a Taiwanese fishing boat had sunk after a collision with a Japanese patrol vessel on Tuesday.

The Taiwanese coast guard boat, which rushed to the area following the accident, “faced off” with the Japanese patrol vessel for more than one hour until it was recalled by the ministry, the report said.

The ministry rebutted the report yesterday, with Deputy Foreign Minister Andrew Hsia (夏立言) saying the ministry did not ask the Coast Guard Administration (CGA) to back down. But he admitted it did ask the CGA to stand by without entering the 12 nautical mile (22km) exclusion zone surrounding the islands.

A Taiwanese fishing boat registered in Taipei County, carrying three crewmembers and 13 fishermen, sank around 3:38am on Tuesday near the Diaoyutais, after it collided with the Japanese patrol boat.

The 16 people were all rescued by the Japanese patrol vessel and were taken to Ishigaki in the Ryuku island chain for medical checks and questioning.

The 13 fishermen returned home on Wednesday morning and two crewmembers were released yesterday, but captain Ho Hung-yu (何鴻義) is still being detained.

Maritime Patrol Directorate General Director-General Lin Fu-an (林福安) said that when the ship arrived at the scene the sailors and passengers from the sinking boat had been rescued, so the coast guard boat left the scene approximately an hour later after they had finished taking pictures.

During the process, Japanese vessels and their crews did not interfere, he said.

Peter Tsai (蔡明耀), the head of the foreign ministry’s Committee of Japanese Affairs, said that he was the one who placed the call to the CGA and asked the vessel to stay away from the zone after he got a request from the Japanese side.

“I take all responsibility for this matter,” he said, adding he did not know that the CGA vessel had already entered the zone when he called.

Tsai said he did not obtain permission from his superiors and he unilaterally decided to recall the CGA fleet. He offered to resign yesterday to shoulder responsibility.

The Diaoyutai (the Senkaku in Japanese) are an island chain 222km north of Taiwan, and claimed by Taiwan, China and Japan.

Beijing expressed its displeasure over the collision on Tuesday, saying the Japanese had no right to enter its territorial waters and harrass a “China Taiwan” boat.

The foreign ministry yesterday reasserted that the Diaoyutai are under the Republic of China’s jurisdiction and urged Japan to return to the negotiating table to settle the sovereignty dispute in a “peaceful and diplomatic manner.”

Foreign Minister Francisco Ou (歐鴻鍊) met with Ikeda Tadashi, the chief representative of the Interchange Association, Japan’s representative office in Taipei yesterday, to protest the Japanese intrusion into the ROC’s territorial waters and demand Ho’s immediate release.

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