The Presidential Office confirmed yesterday that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) plans to visit Pengjia Islet (彭佳嶼) later this month.
Pengjia is situated just over 30 nautical miles (55km) north of Keelung and 76 nautical miles (141km) east of the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台). It is the closest Taiwan-held territory to the disputed island chain.
Presidential Office spokesman Fan Chiang Tai-chi (范姜泰基) said Ma has not inspected Pengjia since taking office, though he has visited many outlaying islands, including Green Island (綠島) and Lanyu (蘭嶼). Fan Chiang said the president planned to visit Pengjia this month to gain a better understanding of residents lives and demands.
“President Ma hopes to visit every town and outlaying island during his term and have direct communication with local residents. The Presidential Office has arranged the trip to Pengjia Islet because President Ma has never visited the island,” he said.
Fan Chiang declined to reveal details of the trip or comment on the speculation that the trip was aimed at asserting the nation’s sovereignty over the Diaoyutais.
Disputes over the sovereignty of the Diaoyutais continue to escalate as Japanese media recently reported that the Japanese government is planning to buy some of the islands in the chain, known as the Senkakus in Japan, for ￥2 billion (US$25 million).
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) has called for a peaceful and rational solution to the dispute in response to Japan’s move. Meanwhile, Ma has reiterated his proposed East China Sea peace initiative, while insisting that the government will not make any compromises in handling the nation’s sovereignty issues.
Ma will take a helicopter to Pengjia. In addition to visiting the islet’s weather station and inspecting the coast guard deployment, he is expected to hear a report on the current situation of the Diaoyutai Islands.
According to the Chinese-language China Times, the helicopter will fly to the air defense identification zone as a gesture to demonstrate the nation’s determination in defending the sovereignty of the Diaoyutai Islands.
The foreign ministry declined to say if there was any political connotation with sovereignty over the Diaoyutai Islands related to the trip.
Ministry spokesman Steve Hsia (夏季昌) said he did not think any country was in a position to comment on the trip because Pengjia is the Republic of China’s territory.
However, Democratic Progressive Party Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) described the planned visit as “self-aggrandizing.”
“Ma should have come up with positive and aggressive measures which contribute to regional stability, national security and sovereignty in the past,” Su said in response to a media inquiry.
“To inspect an islet unrelated to the Diaoyutais when the controversy is a hot topic in the media is only a self-aggrandizing and negative move,” he said.
Additional reporting by Shih Hsiu-chuan and Chris Wang