President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) should clearly explain his view that Taiwan could negotiate with Japan on sovereignty of the disputed Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) said yesterday following the release of Ma’s interview with state-run China News Agency (CNA).
“We are not sure what Ma meant in the interview about negotiations with Japan over the Diaoyutais’ sovereignty, as he had not done so in his first four-year term,” DPP spokesperson Lin Chun-hsien (林俊憲) said.
Ma said in the interview that Taiwan would negotiate with Japan about the fishing rights of Taiwanese fishermen around the Diaoyutais as well as the sovereignty of the disputed islands.
Ma should also pay attention to a false perception he had created that Taiwan intended to collaborate with Beijing on the issue, Lin said.
The DPP would not comment on Ma’s rhetoric, which described the DPP’s efforts to increase its exchange with China as “timid,” Lin said.
The party also said it considered a much-publicized meeting between Ma and opposition leaders to be “secondary” because “the priority for Ma now [should be] ... to do everything he can to improve Taiwanese people’s well-being, not to meet with the opposition,” Lin said.
In his interview, Ma pledged to push ahead with the objectives set forth in the East China Sea Peace Initiative based on the core principle of “no division of territory, and common share of resources.”
The initiative was proposed by Ma on Aug. 5 amid growing tensions in the East China Sea.
Ma’s proposal was followed by more confrontation by concerned parties in the resource-rich area — which has been at the center of escalating disputes between Taiwan, Japan and China for years because of conflicting claims over the islands.
“The purpose of submitting the peace initiative is for all interested parties to solve the matter peacefully, as escalating tension in the region would inevitably lead to collision, or even armed conflict. That is something no neighboring countries would be pleased to see,” Ma said.
Defending the nation’s sovereignty claims over the islands, Ma said that geographically, the distance from the island group to Taiwan was the shortest and it had remained an inherent territory of the Republic of China.
Traditionally, the region has also been a fishing region for Taiwanese fishermen for more than a century, Ma said.
As part of the government’s effort to safeguard the country’s interests and fishing rights in the area, Ma said that the Coast Guard Administration had dispatched vessels to escort and secure Taiwanese fishing vessels on 10 occasions, including one occasion that involved a five-hour standoff with Japanese patrol guards.
“The fishing rights of Taiwanese fishermen will not be the only issue we plan to bring up with Japan, as the government will also put the matter of sovereignty on our negotiation table,” Ma said, adding that if Japan refused to recognize the existence of sovereignty disputes over the islands, these aforementioned matters could never be fully addressed.
Ma said that Japan had sought to settle bitter rows with Russia over the Kuril Islands, known as Southern Kurils in Russia and Northern Territories in Japan, and with South Korea over the Liancourt Rocks, which is called Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese, in the International Court of Justice.
“However, when it comes to the Diaoyutais, Japan appears to take a different approach, and that is where we can express our opinions and work to seek resolution,” Ma said.
Saying that his administration would not rule out any approach in addressing the territorial disputes, Ma added that he was open to discuss the issue with other claimants through bilateral dialogue, provided that all parties put forward explicit objectives and detailed steps.
All concerned parties, including China and Japan, should participate in such a discussion, Ma said, adding that his peace initiative, which was previously criticized by many as “ineffective,” had received support by the international community.
Reiterating his stance — safeguarding sovereignty, shelving disputes, peace and joint exploration — Ma called on all neighboring countries to set aside disputes and seek to resolve the matter through peaceful means, such as negotiation, mediation, arbitration and judicial settlement, as stated by the UN Charter.
“The Diaoyutais issue has reached a point where resolution is needed,” Ma said, adding that the government would enforce its defensive capacity by dispatching more coast guard patrol vessels, while soliciting more substantial evidence to prove that the Qing Dynasty was in fact in control of the island group before 1895.
Turning to national defense, Ma said the important part of the nation’s defense spending budget was not whether it reached 3 percent of GDP, but whether it is used in areas that make the most effective use of the funding.
Having promised in the presidential election in 2008 that the national defense budget would not drop below 3 percent of GDP, Ma said there was room to debate what was an appropriate, adequate level of national defense spending with warming cross-strait relations.
Acknowledging that the national defense budget in recent years has not met his promise of 3 percent of GDP, Ma said that every government agency had to figure out how to use the budget allotted it wisely.
Ma said he would meet Minister of National Defense Kao Hua-chu (高華柱) to review the Ministry of National Defenses expenditure on arms purchases.
Ma said the ministry would face extreme pressure from personnel funding, with the voluntary military service to be implemented in a few years, adding that the ministry needed to step up plans for the eventual replacement of compulsory service.
Measures to phase in voluntary service include the shortening of the service period to one year.
The military will face a personnel crunch, especially with the units that place an emphasis on technical skills, Ma said, but he said the implementation of voluntary military service is necessary.
Commenting on US concerns about Taiwan’s military budget, Ma said the US had expressed its concern because of its own large-scale downsizing of its military and hoped that countries which cooperate militarily with the US would help cover its part with their own military forces.
Despite two economic crises that had struck Taiwan in the past four years, the nation has still allotted a considerable sum to the ministry so that it can maintain national defense, Ma said.
Ma also commented on the DPP sending delegations to China.
While applauding the DPP’s willingness to allow China visits, Ma also said the DPP had done too little on the issue, adding that the personnel that they have sent to China are not high in the party’s structural organization.
“Sometimes they are too cautious,” he said. “If they don’t send people who are senior enough, they will probably be unable to understand China.”
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