Taiwanese flotilla sails to Diaoyutais

DIVERTING ATTENTION::A DPP lawmaker said China was only making its first pitched claim for the islands to divert attention from a simmering internal crisis in the country

Staff writer, with CNA

Tue, Sep 25, 2012 - Page 1

Up to 100 Taiwanese fishing boats, escorted by 10 Coast Guard Administration ships, embarked on a protest voyage yesterday toward the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) that organizers said was aimed at asserting local fishermen’s rights to operate in what they described as their “traditional fishing grounds.”

If officers on Japanese maritime defense vessels — which usually intercept Taiwanese fishing boats operating in the area — try to board the Taiwanese fishing boats, special service agents traveling on the coast guard vessels will “board our fishing boats to stop” the Japanese from boarding the Taiwanese ships, Coast Guard Administration (CGA) Minister Wang Jinn-wang (王進旺) said.

If the Japanese ships spray water at the Taiwanese fishing boats, Wang said, “we will spray water back at them.”

He added that he would not rule out the use of arms if “the other side resorts to it first.”

The coast guard official’s statements in the legislature showed Taiwan’s decision to protect local fishermen’s rights to fish in the waters around the disputed island chain, which is currently controlled by Japan, but also claimed by Taiwan and China.

Wang told lawmakers that Taiwan’s fishing boats would sail to waters to the southwest of the islands and that there was little likelihood they would meet a group of Chinese fishing boats also making a protest journey to the area.

More than 70 fishing boats departed from Nanfangao (南方澳) port in Yilan County for the island chain that lies 120 nautical miles (220km) northeast of Taipei.

By the time they arrive in the target area at 5am today, they are set to be joined by other Taiwanese fishing boats to form a 100-strong flotilla in the “biggest-ever action” to demonstrate Taiwan’s sovereignty over the islands, Wang said.

Ten coast guard vessels ranging in size from 100 tonnes to 2,000 tonnes are ready to “intervene” in case Japanese ships attempt to block the Taiwanese fishing boats, he said.

Wang said Taiwan would not partner with China in protecting its fishing rights near the Diaoyutais, adding that the CGA would abide by the precepts of “no provocation, no conflict and no evasion.”

The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus said it supported a legislative committee proposal for legislators to board coast guard vessels for an inspection tour of the island group, a move that is also to serve to assert Taiwan’s sovereignty claim.

However, Democratic Progressive Party caucus whip Pan Men-an (潘孟安) advised against such a move, saying that it is not in Taiwan’s interests to highlight its claim at a time when China is doing all it can to assert its sovereignty over the islands.

Pan said that over the past 40 years, China has never made any pitched claim over the Diaoyutais.

“It is doing so only to divert attention from its internal crisis,” he said, urging Taiwan not to get involved.

Minister of National Defense Kao Hua-chu (高華柱) said the military had response measures in place for contingencies that could arise from the visit by the fishing boats.

The military is to step up air patrols over the Diaoyutais and monitor the waters surrounding the islands, Kao told the Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee.

The coast guard will be responsible for escorting the fishing vessels during the visit, while the military is to provide related support, Kao said.

“The ministry has completed preparations for any response measures,” Kao said, adding that senior officials would be stationed at a command center in Taipei.