The government yesterday came under fire over its lack of strategy to assert the country’s sovereignty over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) as it called for suggestions from the public on how to resolve the dispute via an essay competition on the day before activists from Hong Kong were arrested by Japanese police for landing on the disputed territory.
Japanese police arrested 14 men yesterday after pro-China activists landed on one of the disputed islands, a Japanese police spokesman said.
“The Okinawa prefectural police arrested five men for violation of the immigration control law on Uotsurijima island,” the spokesman said, referring to one of the islands.
Officials later said that another nine activists had been arrested.
The first arrests came shortly after seven pro-China activists jumped into the water from their boat and reached the rocky shore at about 5:30pm, local police and coast guard officials said.
A group of pro-China activists from Hong Kong and Macau set sail on a Chinese-flagged fishing boat from Hong Kong on Sunday, heading toward the disputed islands.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told reporters that he would “deal with the incident strictly in line with the law.”
The activists, who belong to the Action Committee for Defending the Diaoyu Islands, had said the move was aimed at countering a plan by a group of Japanese lawmakers to visit the islands on Saturday.
The activists made the landing despite the Japan Coast Guard’s heightened security, which included firing water cannon at the activists’ boat, the protest group’s leader said.
Twelve Japanese ships had been following the fishing boat and a helicopter was hovering around, the leader said, but the coast guard declined to confirm the details for “operational reasons.”
On Tuesday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs initiated an essay competition, which asks authors to express their views on solutions to the Diaoyutai dispute, a proposal that drew more criticism than praise from lawmakers yesterday.
People First Party Legislator Thomas Lee (李桐豪) said the government should show its mettle and come up with concrete actions to protect the nation’s territory during the rise in tensions in the East China Sea and South China Sea because Taiwan is in a weak position diplomatically.
“An essay competition alone is meaningless,” Lee said, adding that the ministry might as well hold a fishing competition on the Diaoyutais — “Diaoyu” means “fishing.”
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Ma Wen-jun (馬文君) said she could not help but wonder whether the government had run out of ideas.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Timothy Yang (楊進添) was scheduled to explain the plan at 11:15am, but changed his mind and ministry spokesperson Steve Hsia (夏季昌) handled reporters’ questions instead.
Hsia said the purpose of the competition was to raise public awareness of the Diaoyutais issue and to seek suggestions on possible cooperation between countries on joint exploration of resources in the East China Sea.
Asked about the possibility of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) visiting the islands, as suggested by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Yilan County Commissioner Lin Tsung-hsien (林聰賢), Hsia said the government did not have such a plan.
Hsia was also asked to comment on a visit to the Yasukuni Shrine by Japanese Land and Transport Minister Yuichiro Hata and fellow lawmakers yesterday to honor the dead on the 67th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II.
“We hope the Japanese government can face up to the facts of history. [The visit] hurt the feelings of its neighboring countries. Japan should refrain from actions which could cause negative perception of its image,” Hsia said.
Earlier yesterday, a group of about 100 people gathered in front of the building where the Interchange Association, Japan’s representative office in Taiwan, is located in Taipei to submit a three-point statement.
The protesters, composed of members of the Chinese Association for Protecting the Diaoyutais and the Chinese Unification Alliance, called on Tokyo to stop what they called its invasion of the Diaoyutais, for Japanese officials not to visit the Yasukuni Shrine and for Japan to reflect on its role in World War II.
They staged the protest after their plans to team up with the pro-China activists on their voyage to the islands was “thwarted” by the government.
An official at the Interchange Association received their petition, but the association offered no comment.
Separately yesterday, Premier Sean Chen (陳冲) said the government had provided food supplies to the pro-China activists on the Bao Diao II for humanitarian reasons.
According to the Coast Guard Administration, Keelung Harbor received requests from the vessel in the early hours of Tuesday morning when the ship was near Badouzih (八斗子), off Taiwan’s northernmost tip.
Coast guard personnel boarded the ship and provided the activists with frozen meat, vegetables and drinking water, then left after making sure that the vessel was seaworthy and they had sufficient oil on board, the administration said.
Meanwhile, the DPP said that while Ma’s East Sea Peace Initiative was in line with its longstanding position, diplomatic relations between Taipei and Tokyo should be the priority and Taiwan should not cooperate with China on the issue.
In response to Ma’s initiative, which he announced earlier this month, the DPP announced its “one reaffirmation and five positions” on the Diaoyutais.
“The DPP reaffirms that the initiative is in line with the longstanding position of the party and it’s not too late for Ma to adopt the same policy,” DPP spokesperson Lin Chun-hsien (林俊憲) said.
Lin said the party’s five basic principles on the dispute were a peaceful resolution, avoidance of escalated conflict, a priority on Taipei-Tokyo diplomatic ties, non-collaboration between Taiwan and China on the issue and for the government to match its words with deeds.
Lin also criticized the ministry over the essay contest.
DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) said the top priority in dealing with the dispute was to avoid conflict and to protect the rights of Taiwanese fishermen.
People are concerned about Ma’s handling of the issue because he promotes peace on the one hand, while creating conflict by sending coast guard vessels to escort a fishing boat full of activists waving the People’s Republic of China flag on the other, Su said.
Former premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) said Taiwan needs to learn to deal with the dispute “in a more mature way.”
Ma’s past comments, in which he said Taiwan could resort to military action to resolve the dispute, were a “joke,” Hsieh said.
“Japan signed the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security with the US. If you fight Japan, it means you have to fight the Americans as well. Don’t say something you can’t possibly do,” Hsieh said.