The political philosophy and behavior of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) concerning the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) is fundamentally wrong and risks creating the false perception that Taiwan sides with China at the expense of its relations with Japan, a senior Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) official said yesterday.
“Placing the sovereignty issue at the forefront of the bilateral dispute is a fatal mistake because it escalates tensions and increases mistrust” between Taiwan and Japan, a senior DPP official familiar with the issue said.
The official wished to remain anonymous because his comments did not represent the DPP’s official position.
By saying “we will not give one inch” on sovereignty and sending five coast guard vessels to escort a fishing boat full of activists waving a People’s Republic of China (PRC) flag in the waters around the Diaoyutais, Ma is sending “confused and misleading signals” to Japan and the US, the official said.
Ma’s message is particularly difficult to understand given that the US Department of State recently reaffirmed that the Diaoyutais, known as the Senkakus in Japan, fall within the region defined in the bilateral Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the US and Japan, he said.
“At the end of the day, Ma’s approach not only fails to resolve the sovereignty dispute, it also raises tensions and gives people the impression that Taiwan is on the same side as China,” he said.
In contrast, the DPP prioritized the fishing rights of Taiwanese fishermen over sovereignty, as seen by the seven rounds of fishing rights talks held under the former DPP administration. As a result it was able to forge closer bilateral ties and persuade Japan to recognize Taiwanese drivers’ licenses, despite the dispute over the islands, the official said.
Although the DPP and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) agree that Taiwan claims sovereignty over the islets, they have different philosophies, said DPP New Taipei City (新北市) office director Lo Chih-cheng (羅致政), an expert on international politics.
“For the DPP, the Diaoyutais are part of Taiwan. Period. For the KMT, the Diaoyutais belong to Taiwan and Taiwan is part of China,” he said.
Ma’s philosophy has made Beijing a major player in the game, Lo said, because “Beijing cannot claim sovereignty over the Diaoyutais without claiming sovereignty over Taiwan.”
It has also jeopardized Taiwan’s sovereignty, Lo said.
Lo made a similar observation about the DPP’s strategy of setting aside the dispute over sovereignty and promoting cooperation in other areas, such as fishing rights.
If the strategy works for other claimants of territory in the South China Sea, it should work for Taiwan and Japan over the Diaoyutai Islands, Lo said.
However, not all DPP members are on the same page. DPP Legislator Chen Ou-po (陳歐珀), who said he supported the “fishing rights first” approach, condemned Japan’s recent blocking of Taiwanese fishing boats from his constituency of Yilan County in the area and said he was considering visiting the islands himself.
Lo said Chen’s planned visit was “a matter of concern” and was unlikely to help create a more positive atmosphere as the two sides work to resolve the territorial dispute.