A new shoulder patch seen during a two-day series of military exercises last week has caused a minor sensation in defense circles, as Taiwan and Japan continue to spar over the disputed Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台).
During the Combat Readiness Tri-Service Exercises in Greater Kaohsiung and Hualien, members of the Taiwan Military Journalists Association were seen wearing a patch depicting a Taiwanese soldier planting a Republic of China (ROC) flag on a rock, with the inscription 釣魚台是我們的, or “the Diaoyutais belong to us.”
Although not officially sanctioned by the Ministry of National Defense, the patch was a “show of support for Taiwan’s territorial claims,” one of the journalists told reporters present at the exercises, which did not include scenarios involving the disputed islets, but instead simulated a submarine incursion and defensive measures to counter an assault on an airport.
A similar inscription was seen one week after Japan announced the purchase of three of the islets comprising the Diaoyutais in September last year, this time on a Mk82 “Snake Eye” 500lb bomb carried by a F-16 taking off at Hualien Air Force Base as it headed for a bombing exercise.
The ministry said at the time that while there were “more appropriate” ways to express patriotism, none of the pilots would be reprimanded, as it was understandable that some would want to show their devotion to the nation they are charged with defending.
Meanwhile, Japanese media reported at the weekend that a Coast Guard Administration vessel was seen operating in waters near the Diaoyutais, coming within 39km off Uotsuri Island, the largest islet in the chain, known as the Senkakus by the Japanese.
The 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, said the Taiwanese vessel entered the area at 7:10am. The Hualien 119, a 500-tonne medium coastal patrol ship, left the contiguous area at 8:25am. Around the same time, Chinese patrol vessels were observed sailing in the contiguous zone outside Japanese waters for the third day in a row.
The Coast Guard Administration said the Hualien was on a routine maritime patrol mission.
On Thursday, Coast Guard Administration vessels engaged in a water cannon battle — the second in recent months — after Japanese coast guard ships attempted to intercept a Taiwanese fishing boat heading for the Diaoyutais.
Activists on board, members of the Taipei-based Chinese Association for Protecting the Diaoyutais, were hoping to enshrine a statue of Matsu on one of the islets.
In a twist to the story, the president of the board of the Greater Taichung-based Matsu temple from which the statue originated is former Non-Partisan Solidarity Union legislator Yen Ching-piao (顏清標), who was sentenced to three-and-a-half-years in jail in November last year on corruption charges.
Yen was forced to step down as legislator in Taichung’s second electoral district, prompting a by-election on Saturday in which his son, Yen Kuang-hen (顏寬恆), defeated Democratic Progressive Party candidate Chen Shih-kai (陳世凱).
Officials in Taipei and Tokyo maintain that the incident will not undermine efforts to resume bilateral talks on fisheries, which are expected to begin soon.
During an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun on Friday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that the idea, proposed recently by a senior Chinese Communist Party official, of “shelving” the territorial dispute was “not applicable, as the Senkakus have long been part of Japan.”