Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) said yesterday he would not rule out going to war with Japan if Taipei and Tokyo fail to resolve the dispute over the Diaoyutai (釣魚台) islands triggered by Tuesday’s collision between a Taiwanese fishing boat and a Japanese patrol vessel.
“I believe declaration of war is the last option to resolve controversies between two nations,” Liu said when fielding repeated questions from Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chen Ken-te (陳根德) on the floor of the legislature about whether the Cabinet was ready for a war with Japan.
Liu made the comment after being repeatedly asked if he had not ruled out war as an option in the dispute.
Later in an interpellation session with Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Lee Chun-yee (李俊毅), the premier elaborated on his remark, saying that war would be the last choice if all peaceful means were in vain.
But “we are always ready in terms of any action to defend the nation’s sovereignty,” he said.
Under the Constitution, only the president can declare war.
The Taiwanese fishing boat and Japanese patrol boat collided at 3:38am on Tuesday, resulting in the sinking of the Taipei County-registered vessel.
The three crewmembers and 13 fishermen aboard the boat were rescued by the Japanese and taken to Ishigaki in the Ryukyu island chain for medical treatment and questioning. One of the crewmen said the Japanese patrol vessel had deliberately rammed into the Taiwanese boat. The Japanese coast guard said the Taiwanese boat had made an abrupt turn and hit its vessel.
The 13 fishermen returned home on Wednesday morning and two crewmembers were released on Thursday.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced yesterday afternoon that Ho Hung-yi (何鴻義), the boat’s captain, had been released by Japan and was expected to return to Taipei at 7:55pm.
News of Ho’s release came after Minister of Foreign Affairs Francisco Ou (歐鴻鍊) threatened yesterday morning to recall Taiwan’s representative to Japan if Tokyo did not demonstrate goodwill by 5pm yesterday.
Ou had made the threat during an interpellation session at the Legislative Yuan.
What had been a minor diplomatic incident escalated after President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his administration were criticized across party lines as being too weak after a report on Thursday in the Chinese-language United Daily News that said the foreign ministry had instructed a Taiwanese coast guard vessel to “back off” as it approached the scene of the collision.
While the Presidential Office issued a statement on Thursday afternoon reaffirming Taiwan’s sovereignty over the Diaoyutais, Ma has remained tight-lipped amid calls for him to clarify his position on the issue.
KMT Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方), a member of the Diplomacy and National Defense Committee, told reporters that the committee has demanded the Ministry of National Defense (MND) provide a Kidd-class destroyer to take committee members on an inspection tour of the incident area.
Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) said Vice Speaker Tseng Yung-chuan (曾永權) would lead the inspection trip.
Peter Tsai (蔡明耀), the head of the ministry’s Committee of Japanese Affairs, said on Thursday that he was the one who placed the call to the Coast Guard Administration (CGA), asking that its ship stay away from the 12 nautical mile (22km) exclusion zone surrounding the Diaoyutais after he got a request from Japan.
Liu told Lee yesterday that he could not accept the foreign ministry’s instructions to the coast guard, adding that he would ask the ministry to reorganize itself and eliminate organizations such as the Committee of Japanese Affairs.
Meanwhile, Ou told lawmakers that he had summoned Tokyo’s representative in Taiwan twice to express the government’s concerns over the incident.
Ou told Chen that the Japanese representative had promised to respond as soon as possible, but Tokyo had yet to do so.
Ou also confirmed that he had received Tsai’s resignation. Tsai offered to resign on Thursday night to take responsibility for calling the Coast Guard Administration. However, the issue at hand was the safety of those aboard the fishing boat and protecting Taiwan’s sovereignty, not placing any blame, the foreign minister said.
“The internal communication breakdown among government agencies greatly contributed to the mishap,” Ou said.
No demerits would be handed out until a thorough review of the situation has been made, he said.
Ou said a special cross-agency committee was set up in 1999 to deal with the Diaoyutai sovereignty dispute, “but since then, the committee has not been functional.” He said Tuesday’s incident proved the urgency of restarting the group.
“We believe this incident has highlighted the importance of resolving the sovereignty dispute over Diaoyutai. Japan is very clear on our stance and it is imperative that the two sides resume negotiations on the issue as soon as possible,” he said.
Ou said Tokyo is also very eager to settle the dispute before the situation worsens.
He backed the idea of the legislatures going to the Diaoyutais to reassert Taiwan’s claim over the chain.
Meanwhile, the DPP lashed out at the Ma administration for making Tsai a scapegoat.
DPP Spokesman Cheng Wen-tsang (鄭文燦) told a press conference that it did not make sense that Tsai, an executive director of the foreign ministry’s second-level unit, had the power to give orders to CGA.
Diplomacy and national defense fall within the authority of the president, Cheng said.
“The decision to order the vessel to leave should have been made by the president or the premier,” Cheng said. “Either it was because President Ma was out of loop regarding diplomatic and defense affairs, or it was because he was so irresponsible that the blame is being placed on a subordinate.”
DPP Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said on Thursday that the incident would test the consistency of Ma’s stance on Taiwan’s claim of sovereignty over the islands.
Ma has repeatedly said that the Diaoyutais are part of the Republic of China’s territory, and handling of this incident will be closely watched, Tsai said.
“Although we don’t expect him to act 100 percent according to what he has said in the past, there should at least be a certain level of consistency,” she said.
Tokyo said yesterday that it wanted to avoid damaging relations after Taiwan protested against the holding of a fishing boat captain and Taiwanese demonstrators converged in front of the de facto Japanese embassy in Taipei on Thursday, burning flags and demanding Japan release the captain, compensate the vessel’s owner and apologize for the incident.
Relations between Japan and Taiwan are generally good, although Japan formally recognizes China and not Taiwan.
“This matter should be dealt with in a way that does not damage the healthy development of ties with Taiwan,” a Japanese foreign ministry spokesman said.
Taiwan, China and Japan all claim sovereignty over the Diaoyutais although Tokyo exerts control over the chain and claims sovereignty over the territorial waters.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHIH HSIU-CHUAN AND CNA
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